Arthur Lopez's apartment in Hopkins is only about eight blocks from the nearest grocery store. But after losing much of his right leg to diabetes five years ago, he says getting even that far can be daunting.
Like many of his neighbors in Dow Towers, Lopez, 64, now depends largely on the Intercongregation Communities Association mobile food shelf for twice-monthly deliveries of groceries and other household goods.
"A lot of people here are on the poor side," Lopez said. "You know, some of them are housebound. They really look forward to this."
ICA began operating the mobile food shelf out of its Minnetonka headquarters in January. It has since delivered more than 35,000 pounds of donated goods to 63 different households in Dow Towers and two other highrise apartment complexes in the area.
The program is headed by Dylan Christensen, who makes the rounds to each of the three apartment complexes in a refrigerated truck that allows him to deliver fresh meat and produce, which can be difficult to come by at most food shelves.
Although his deliveries make up only 8 percent of ICA's total food distribution, Christensen says he gets the sense that he's making a significant difference in the lives of his clients.
An empty refrigerator is a scary thing, he says, and filling it meets a very basic need. But for Christensen, it's about more than just the food.
"A big part of my job is just being a face and talking to people," he said. "A lot of seniors in that situation, they don't get out of the house that often."
For Lopez, who describes himself as a chatterbox, that's a welcome addition to the load of groceries.
"When you're housebound, all you've got is the telephone, the TV and that's all. So if I can talk to someone, I'm doing real good," Lopez said.
Lopez is typical of the mobile food shelf's clients. ICA's executive director, Cathy Maes, says that while only 16 percent of her organization's total client base is 55 and older, 94 percent of those served by the mobile food shelf program belong to that age group.
"It's meeting a need that we didn't know about until the most recent census data came out," Maes said.
The 2010 census tipped off ICA to an underserved segment of the elderly population in the Minnetonka area that was in need of food assistance.
"We know that some of the people in these highrises, their only access to groceries is the Super America next door," Maes said. "That's as far as they can get because of limited mobility or lack of transportation."
Many of ICA's elderly clients also are on fixed incomes, and after paying their bills they have little left to feed themselves, she said. However, despite their need, Maes says they are often reluctant to ask for help.
"There's a lot of pride," she said. "A lot of our clients, this is their first time here. They never thought they would need [the mobile food shelf]."
Maes says ICA hopes to expand the program to a handful of other apartment complexes occupied primarily by senior citizens.
The mobile food shelf concept is spreading to other areas around the Twin Cities. Maes meets with the directors of other area food shelves once a month. She says many of them have begun similar programs in the communities they serve.
"The need is there," Maes said, "and it's definitely on the rise."
Nick Woltman is a Twin Cities freelance writer.