Agency Spotlight: Ralph Reeder Food Shelf
The Ralph Reeder Food Shelf is one of only a handful of food shelves in Minnesota weaved into a school district. This one is located at Pike Lake Education Center. Started in the 1980s after educators and staff saw students coming to school hungry, the Ralph Reeder Food Shelf has grown, changing locations over the years to fit its expanding selection. Its newest additions are the 11 community gardens spread out through the district at varying schools.
Started as a fiscally responsible service learning project that also provides much-needed fresh vegetables, the Ralph Reeder Food Shelf’s communal gardens have gotten Mounds View’s kindergarten through eighth graders involved in their community.
“Every building from kindergarten through middle school has a garden. Only the high schools and our programs that are in a rental space do not,” Greg, Mounds View’s service learning coordinator, said. “I think the level of understanding about the food shelf and about food insecurity in general has improved, from what I’ve seen from teachers.”
The community gardens are teaching students about equity concerns in three main ways. First, that there are people in need of help in their community. Second, they don’t have to bring items or money to be involved in giving back. Third, no matter their age, they can actively volunteer in some way.
“Being involved and supporting a cause through a direct activity rather than just fundraising,” is an important part of the service learning activities linked to the gardens Greg said.
“For these kids, if that school is doing a food drive, they may feel that they can’t really participate. This is something that everybody can help with,” Lisa, the Ralph Reeder Food Shelf’s program supervisor, said.
Lisa has been with the Ralph Reeder Food Shelf for 18 years and said that being in one of Mounds View’s educational centers has really helped with reaching families who may not know how to access food programs.
“The fact that we are so closely connected to all of our teachers, staff and administrators, we know that if there’s a family that’s really struggling, that we’re going to get that referral much quicker than, say, a food shelf that might be out in the community,” Lisa said.
Thanks to the gardens, the food shelf has seen a sharp increase in the fresh produce that they’re able to offer.
“We really have had the feedback from our families saying ‘Wow, you guys have never had this!’” Lisa said. “It’s been really fun to see and provide recipes, or they’ll share that their child had helped with [the garden]; that was really a neat circle around the family benefitting from something they were volunteering with.”
During the summer months, the community is even more involved in the gardens. Some school groups have the opportunity to tend the gardens, oftentimes athletes, but parents also help.
“One mom was saying that whenever she’s at Sunnyside garden, she’ll go up with her kids to the park, and then she’ll go over and pull weeds or do whatever is needed,” Lisa said. “It’s not just students and staff in the summer; it can often be just community members.”
Most of the vegetables chosen for the gardens are picked because they are harvested later in the year, typically when school is back in session and students can help, Greg said, helping to weave the gardens into each school year.
If you’re in the Mounds View School District or would like to learn more about the Ralph Reeder Food Shelf, visit their website at ralphreederfoodshelf.org.