Sometimes when bad things happen, good will emerge. This world has been going through some bad days with the pandemic but there are some good things coming out of it. That includes some changes at the Stevens County Food Shelf in Morris–changes that happened during, after and because of the shut-downs.
The Food Shelf was established over 60 years ago to serve low income and food insecure people with emergency and supplemental food needs. Through the years, the community has generously contributed to the mission, with thousands of people and organizations donating food–yes, canned food, but also produce, meat, eggs, dairy and bakery products, money, time and skills. In turn, thousands of people have benefitted from receiving food and services at the Food Shelf located at 701 Iowa Avenue in Morris.
The Food Shelf is a 501C3 nonprofit organization led by a board of directors composed of seven community members. The board recently hired Brenda Boever to fill its new part time position as Food Shelf Coordinator. Boever attended college at University of Minnesota Morris and has lived and worked in Morris for 40 years. She recently retired from her position as Director at the UMM Office of Academic Success and was looking for a new way to contribute to the community.
“People in our community are truly interested in helping one another and the food shelf is one of the ways in which this is possible,” stated Boever. “We see people struggling with food insecurity, so providing greater access to resources like the food shelf helps improve lives and can make things a little easier.”
Before the pandemic hit, many hardworking and committed volunteers did a wonderful job over many years making sure food was always available when needed. When the food shelf closed for a day in mid-March due to the emerging pandemic, the food shelf board quickly realized that a “business as usual” was not going to be an option to keep people safe and fed. New guidelines, safety protocols and food distribution procedures were put into place. Some of these changes included offering a temporary food donation drop site separate from the food shelf, implementing “drive through” food distribution, training volunteers to help people get the foods they want and need, even as they remain safely in their vehicle. Operations will continue to evolve as the board assesses and navigates changes in community food needs and changes in the Stevens County Food Shelf food supply.
New wall covering, utility sink, and flooring were installed. A commercial grade cooler was donated by local dairy associations, and a commercial produce cooler was donated by the Foundation for Essential Needs, a nonprofit that assists food shelves across the state. A freezer was donated by local FFA groups, electrical and lighting upgrades were completed, with much of the labor donated to complete a major interior upgrade. CARES Act funding helped pay for some of the needed supplies, and the Statewide Health Improvement Program covered the costs of office equipment.
As the pandemic continued, so did the food distribution, the donations, the volunteering, the generosity. Boever stated that the people can see the difference and feel positive changes are underway, including assisting people in combining foods available for nutritious and tasty meals on a budget.
Currently Food Shelf hours are Mondays from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m., Tuesdays, Wednesday and Fridays from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. and Thursdays from 5:30 to 6:30 pm. Donations can be dropped off at the Food Shelf during open hours. The Food Shelf will continue to work closely with Stevens County Human Services, Food Drop, Backpack Program and Morris Area Farmers Market. A new initiative will strive to meet transportation needs as they intersect with food needs in Stevens County.
“It is all about reaching out to people,” stated Doug Ehlers, board member, “ There are lots of places in the community where food is needed. We just need to figure out the connections and make it accessible.”
On behalf of the Food Shelf Board of Directors, Ehlers extends a HUGE thank you to the many volunteers who helped at the food shelf over the years. When he retired recently from Riverwood Bank, he was asked for a non-profit where $1,000 could be donated in his name. He chose the food shelf and specifically to place an ad in the newspaper to thank the volunteers and update the community on Food Shelf progress.
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