For many, the faces that come to mind when envisioning Americans living with hunger are those of inner-city residents. But according to the Brookings Institution, a public policy research nonprofit in Washington, D.C., more low-income American families now live in the suburbs than in large cities or rural areas.
The rise in suburban poverty has led a long-established food shelf in Minnetonka to broaden its services. Intercongregation Communities Association (ICA) recently expanded beyond its St. Davids Road location to a brand-new facility at 11588 K-Tel Drive, where it will hold a grand opening celebration on Tuesday, July 22.
ICA, which has been around for 40 years, is a coalition of faith groups, supported by businesses and other groups, that offers a variety of services to those in need in the west metro communities of Deephaven, Excelsior, Greenwood, Hopkins, Minnetonka, Shorewood and Woodland.
ICA’s new facility doesn’t look like most food shelves. Walking into the K-Tel Drive store, clients see aisles of food, checkout lanes, carts and baskets for filling up on groceries, and more fresh produce than most food shelves are able to provide. This increasingly popular kind of food shelf is known as the “choice model.”
Executive Director Peg Keenan said ICA decided to expand its services to K-Tel Drive to better serve its growing clientele and to provide a more dignified way to help those who are struggling with uncertainty, poverty and hunger.
Clients are able to choose what they need from rows of canned items, boxed goods, fresh fruits and vegetables, and refrigerated and frozen goods, along with household items or pet food.
They are encouraged to take what they need just for the immediate future, and then are able to come more frequently, Keenan said. With more frequent visits, they get fresher produce, key to a nutritious diet.
The choice model also saves money because less food goes to waste, she said.
The new location is much larger than the St. Davids location. Not only is there more space to shop and more freezer space, but a back room allows for more storage and sorting space.
ICA gets 43 percent of its food during food rescue efforts five days a week. Every day, volunteers drive a refrigerated truck to stores that sell fresh groceries to pick up near- or at-peak foods.
Other services offered by ICA are “emergency bags,” or pre-bagged food, for people needing some quick help with meals, and a mobile unit that heads out to places like senior citizens’ complexes to distribute food to those who find it difficult to travel.
“We just don’t want anybody to be hungry,” Keenan said.
Beyond offering food to those in need, ICA offers employment services, economic services, transportation services and more, Keenan said. An overarching goal is to prevent housing loss, she said. Once someone loses a home, everything else tends to spiral downward, Keenan said.
More help, more heart
The expansion to K-Tel Drive was necessary because of ICA’s increased clientele. In 2008, St. Davids had 469 food services, or appointments for individuals to receive food. From Oct. 1, 2013, to now, the two locations have had more than 1,100 services, Keenan said. ICA serves 842 households in seven communities from Shorewood to Hopkins. The small location just couldn’t continue to service as well as the addition of the new location could, Keenan said.
“It expands the capacity to serve more clients in a dignified way,” said Laura Swenson, ICA public relations and communications specialist. Being able to “shop” for what they need allows clients to leave the food shelf with dignity.
Funding for all the services provided, along with the new location, comes from a variety of places, but the largest portion, 44 percent, comes from individual donors in the community, Keenan said.
“It’s hard work to find money,” but the community members have been incredibly supportive, she said.
The new location is hosting a grand opening celebration from 4 to 7 p.m. on July 22 for the community to view the new site and gain a better understanding of suburban poverty and the choice model of food shelf.
Keenan also encourages those interested in volunteering to attend the grand opening. ICA has almost 750 volunteers but is in need of more, she said.
The food shelf “is a good symbol of community support and understanding of people who are in need and struggling,” Keenan said. “It’s a symbol saying they are respected. We value them, [and are] here to help them.”
Danielle Dullinger is a Twin Cities freelance writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.