A New Approach to Fighting Hunger

Food Shelf Wall sign      program-2

Earlier this year, we hit a big milestone in reimagining how Neighborhood House meets the needs of immigrants, refugees, and community members struggling with food insecurity. The walls of our food shelf in the Wellstone Center were torn down, and in March a new Free Food Market opened.

We’ve tripled the size of our shopping area and food is organized in sections like the healthy eating plate: vegetables, fruit, grains, dairy, and protein. We do this to help families make their food choices with nutrition guidelines in mind.

The switch from ‘Food Shelf’ to ‘Food Market’ is also very intentional and serves two goals: First, to highlight the fresh foods we have available, such as produce, dairy and eggs. Second, calling ourselves a free food market can help reduce stigma for our participants.

There can be a lot of misinformation and embarrassment around the perception of who uses a food shelf. Many of our participants have told us “I never thought I would be here” or “I need food, but I’m not the type of person who uses a food shelf.” What’s even worse is that that there are also people who are hungry but don’t use the food market because they “don’t want a free handout” and are ashamed to seek support for their families.

We operate on the walk-in choice model, meaning that you don’t need an appointment to use our food market. You can come in anytime during our walk-in hours and after we complete a brief intake, you shop with a volunteer and pick out items that you’d like to take home. This summer an intern from Macalester College completed a project incorporating healthy recipes into our food market and we now offer meal suggestions to help encourage families to take advantage of the full variety of food we have available.

Bottom line, distributing fresh foods is a win-win situation. Fresh foods tend to be more nutritious than processed foods, especially when considering hidden salt and sugar content. Fresh foods are also healthier for our participants whose low income status makes them more likely to experience health problems. Before our remodel, we surveyed our participants to ask which foods they most needed. The number one answer we received was “fresh fruits and vegetables.” Just like everyone else, our participants want their kids to be healthy, and to be familiar with how to cook and eat fresh foods.

How can you help? We love it when asked “what items do you need the most?” People are often surprised to hear that we distribute perishables such as produce, dairy, and frozen meat. We’re grateful for all donations, but consider thinking outside the box (or can) to feed a family in need.

Christine byline photo   By: Christine Miller, Food Support Manager