Building Bridges with Produce

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October 13, 2017 By: Marie Pauley Category: SHH News

For many seniors in rural southwestern Minnesota, asking for help with food is something that rarely crosses their minds. It’s difficult for them to imagine taking resources away from children or families they consider to be struggling. Even though it’s hard for them to ask for help doesn’t mean they don’t need it.

Margaret Palan has been with United Community Action Partnership (UCAP) in Willmar, Minn. for seven years. With a smile in her voice she shares the many facets of her job. Officially, she is the organization’s Community Resource Coordinator in the food security area of services. More specifically, Margaret supports the work of four food shelves, the Nutrition Assistance Program for Seniors (NAPS) and a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) team that reaches nine counties in southwestern Minnesota. Her job is to work within the community to ensure her hungry neighbors are fed.

In a town with a small population, it may seem like everyone that needs help is visiting the local food shelf. Margaret knows that’s not always the case, especially for seniors. In the region’s counties, seniors are going hungry, and there are a variety of programs ready to help – not just the food shelf.

Recently, UCAP was awarded a capacity building grant from Second Harvest Heartland with the goal of improving food security in the senior population in their community. The grant was funded by Feeding America and Enterprise Rent-A-Car Foundation.

To reach that goal, Margaret says her organization is reducing stigma and making sure people know there are others who care about them. The grant is allowing UCAP to provide one seemingly simple, but big addition during the current senior food box distributions - fresh produce. The produce arrives from Second Harvest Heartland, which has primarily been collected from grocery stores and distribution centers.

“There’s an excitement about the distributions now,” exclaims Margaret. “The addition of fresh produce has been so important; it’s a way to say to the seniors in our community we care about them and their health.” 

“Most of the people have never received any food help before, they don’t go to the food shelf,” Margaret shared. “For the people that are getting help for the first time, it calms some anxieties. They know when the end of the month comes, there’s food available.”

In the first seven months of the enhanced program, more than 100 seniors accessed the program for the first time. While it may not seem like much, those 100 seniors are helping spread the word helping reach even more of the community with food help that would otherwise by unfulfilled.

If you are senior in need of food help or know someone who may require assistance, please visit us at or call 651.484.8241 or toll free at 800.365.0270 for more information.


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