Coming to Know Our Hungry Neighbors Makes a Difference
Volunteer Coordinator Michelle Repp and Director Shelly Sir from Westonka Food Shelf in Mound, Minn. know their hungry neighbors greatly depend on the shelf in times of need. In fact, a vast majority of their clients get more than half of the food they eat each month from Westonka alone.
The volunteers at Westonka have gotten to know what their clients’ food needs really are. It’s not just about filling stomachs—it’s about doing so with the right food. “We all know that the population we serve has a six times greater percentage of chronic illness and disease because of [lack of] nutritional-related resources,” Michelle said.
It makes sense that when it came time to coordinate the next big project for their clients, Michelle and Shelly knew it was important to them to consider the nutritional value of the food they are providing. The Westonka Food Shelf wanted to install an open-air cooler, one that many grocery stores use to display easily prepared foods. The idea was to offer the ingredients for one meal, grouped together, along with the recipe in packages for clients to take home with them. There was just one complication. “We were at a stumbling block because of the prices,” Michelle said. After saving up and attempting to ask for a transfer of funds from another project to the air cooler project, Michelle and Shelly were unexpectedly blocked from making the purchase at that time.
But just a couple of days later, Second Harvest Heartland coincidentally sent them an email asking if they were interested in a free open-air cooler, a resource we had access to because of the well-timed generosity of General Mills.
“We looked at each other and we were like, ‘Is this for real?’ We were so close to ordering one. We are so grateful that Second Harvest Heartland made this available for us,” said Shelly. Westonka received the air cooler, and they are now ready to assemble the ingredients packages for fresh, accessible and healthy meals.
Like Second Harvest Heartland, Westonka consistently keeps clients at the center of their work. Because their building was donated to them last year and their staff is comprised of exclusively volunteers, the assets Westonka receives can go straight to helping their community and the clients they’ve come to know.
“I wish people knew that many of our patrons are employed,” Michelle said, “that they are simply underemployed. They don’t have enough financial resources to pay their rent, pay for medicine, pay for their children to be in sports and put enough food on the table. No matter how affluent we may or may not be, we are just centimeters away from a devastating act changing our lives.
One of the fastest growing populations of individuals they serve is seniors. “It’s so disappointing to me that you work your entire life and you still have to choose between taking your medicine and eating lunch,” Michelle said.
Michelle’s teenage son volunteers at Westonka and has gotten to know one of these senior clients. “One of the patrons is a 90-something year old WWII veteran,” Michelle said. “He was one of the first U.S. armed services personnel to free a concentration camp.” Her son finds it frustrating that this patron did so much for others, and now he needs help just getting by.
“Everyone is a fascinating person and has a fascinating life,” Michelle said.
Michelle and Shelly agree that the work they do could not happen without the community partnerships they have. “Places like Second Harvest Heartland are helping these people so much. Truly what you guys have done, that just makes a huge difference in people’s lives.” We agree--community partnerships like we have with General Mills are what make the work of the hunger-relief network possible. In this case, we are thrilled to say Westonka's story is just one of the 60 food shelf partners that benefited from General Mills' donation.