Second Harvest Heartland, one of the nation’s largest food banks, will move its headquarters to Brooklyn Park after 30 years in Maplewood.
The nonprofit recently closed on a building at 7101 Winnetka Av. N., which will serve as the organization’s future distribution center. The food bank currently operates facilities in Maplewood and Golden Valley.
The bigger Brooklyn Park space will allow for more volunteers and increased refrigeration capacity, especially for the nonprofit’s growing emphasis on fresh food, officials said.
Second Harvest is seeking $18 million in state funding for the $50 million move and expansion project and has turned to the city of Brooklyn Park to act as its local fiscal agent.
While the City Council voted last month to help Second Harvest pursue state bonds, several city leaders also expressed concern over how the move might hamper local hunger relief efforts, including the area’s much-lauded Community Emergency Assistance Programs (CEAP), which for years has run a food shelf.
“What you have to understand is that CEAP is our family,” Council Member Terry Parks said at the June 12 meeting. “I wouldn’t vote for this if I knew that there was competition moving in to take over what they’re already doing.”
Council Member Lisa Jacobson, who is the executive director of the nonprofit HOPE 4 Youth, worried that Second Harvest might siphon away volunteers from CEAP.
“We would love to have you in our community, but not at the expense of our own food shelf,” Jacobson said. “Without a really clear, strong partnership with Second Harvest, little nonprofits … get really scared when the big guys come to town. And you are the biggest.”
At the meeting, Second Harvest CEO Rob Zeaske assured wary council members that the food bank would not be changing its partnerships with places like CEAP, which for decades has worked with Second Harvest.
“We absolutely don’t want to do anything that would do harm to the existing important support and role that CEAP plays locally,” Zeaske said.
Moreover, food banks and food shelves do different work in the hunger relief system, said Clare Brumback, CEAP president.
“The food shelves are feeding hungry neighbors,” Brumback said. “Food banks are one of the partners who support that work.”
Last year, about 6,700 area families turned to CEAP’s food shelf. At least half the nonprofit’s food comes from Second Harvest or its partners, while the rest is drawn from sources like food drives, donations and low-cost purchasing, Brumback said.
CEAP also receives food from area grocers including Cub Foods, Hy-Vee, Walmart and Festival Foods. Zeaske told city leaders that Second Harvest’s move would not affect those existing agreements.
CEAP has also been invited to participate in Second Harvest’s planning discussions in coming weeks, Brumback said.
“We really do want this to be an incredibly positive move for all of us,” Brumback said. “The goal here is to make this a successful transition for them and to have it enhance our work in the community.”
Second Harvest says it provided meals to more than half a million people last year. About half of the 92 million pounds of food it distributed last year was fresh fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy. The nonprofit draws more than 30,000 volunteers a year in Minnesota and western Wisconsin.
“We’re delighted to be thinking about Brooklyn Park as our new home,” Zeaske said.
After building renovations are complete, Second Harvest plans to move its headquarters operations to the new facility by the end of 2019 or early 2020.