Heaven’s Table Food Shelf and the Letter from Marilyn
With far too many neighbors struggling to afford food for the whole month, Heaven’s Table was exactly what the residents of Fairmont, Minn. needed.
Heaven’s Table was established as a direct response to a study in Martin County researching the economic status of residents. Although another food shelf was operating in Fairmont at the time, it was a situation where the food shelf could not possibly serve everyone in the community alone.
Greta Lintelman crossed paths with Heaven’s Table when she wanted to start volunteering while she was still working full-time. “It peaked my interested because I didn’t realize [the need]—you get involved in your own little lives and you don’t always think about where there’s need in the community,” Greta said.
Fast-forward the five years this young food shelf has been part of the community, and Greta is now on the Board, which she describes is very much a ‘working board.’ Greta leads the food sourcing for Heaven’s Table, grant writing and more. She says she clocked in 1,280 hours in 2017 alone. “I went from a full-time job,” Greta said, “to a brief retirement, to now almost back to a full-time job!”
But to Greta, it’s more than worth it based on the response she receives from the Martin County residents who use Heaven’s Table. A month or so ago, Greta received a handwritten letter from a senior named Marilyn* who shared a unique story.
Marilyn‘s house was at risk of foreclosure. Living off Social Security’s limited budget is challenging, and with threats of losing her home, she needed a way to pay her property taxes. The letter said with bonus donated items from Heaven’s table like flour and sugar, Marilyn baked cookies to sell at her rummage sale. The cookies were a hit, and with the earnings from the sale, Marilyn was able to pay her property taxes and stay in her home.
“I realize that the food shelf isn't there to make and sell the product,” Greta said, “but the food shelf helped her to maintain her home and stay in that home. Some people might look at that and think she's cheating the system, but the system is cheating her.” The flour and sugar would have otherwise ended up in a landfill. Marilyn’s of course is just one story of many, but it speaks to one example of how food is so much more than feeling full.
Inspired by the many stories just like Marilyn’s, Greta and the rest of Heaven’s Table’s Board of Directors are focused on increasing accessibility for the families they serve. The biggest challenge for individuals in need of food help in Martin County? Transportation.
“I think travel is always a problem,” Greta said. “There is a fair share of folks who don’t have a vehicle, or don’t want to drive in certain weather. These groups of people live in food deserts.”
Following the theme of compassionate responsiveness that started Heaven’s Table in the first place, the Board made the financially challenging decision to open a second location at the other end of Martin County, in Sherburn, Minn. The second location has helped increase clientele by 115 percent!
Last week concluded the Minnesota FoodShare March Campaign, the largest grassroots food and fund drive in the state. Heaven’s Table and 300 food shelves just like it rely on this campaign for much of their operating budget every year.
Greta said March Food Share Month is an important bridge between December holidays and Stamp Out Hunger, the largest single-day food drive in the country. “People forget about food shelves once the holidays are over,” Greta said, “and it's a way to bring hunger back into awareness.”
And that awareness is important all year long, as is education about what hunger actually looks like. “I just don't see a lot of people coming and getting food just because it's free,” Greta said. “I want people to think generously first, instead of thinking people are taking advantage--it does happen but golly I wouldn't come here for fun! I want people to think generously.”
In recognition of their work in community, Heaven’s Table was nominated for a 2018 Hunger Hero award in the Agency Partner category. Greta and her team continue to do amazing work, responding compassionately for their community and we are proud to partner with them in serving hour hungry neighbors in Martin County.