Food shelf volunteers place groceries in plastic bags outside in winter

Partnering to Provide Produce and Protein in North Mankato

On December 11, cars could be seen lined up down the block for hours, waiting to visit Belgrade United Methodist Church in North Mankato. While a line of cars isn't abnormal for the regular monthly produce distribution held by the church and volunteers from Penske Truck Rental, a special Hams for the Holidays distribution brought even more neighbors out that day.

A line of cars outside a food distribution

Cars waiting to visit the food distribution.

The second Monday of every month, a truck and volunteers from Penske Truck Rental drive down to North Mankato from Second Harvest Heartland with a load of produce. Belgrade United Methodist Church then coordinates volunteers to bag up and hand out fresh vegetables to community members who attend the drive-up distribution.  

Crates of fresh tomatoes

Fresh produce is one of the most requested items at food shelves.

For the December event, Second Harvest Heartland provided potatoes, squash, onions, sweet potatoes and tomatoes. Hy-Vee, in partnership with Hormel, donated 570 half hams, providing much needed protein to families ahead of the holidays.  

“Obviously today is a little special,” explained Wendy, a member of Belgrade United Methodist Church and a regular food distribution volunteer. “With the hams today, it's probably going to be around 500 families we’ll be serving.”

A pile of packaged hams

Representatives from Hy-Vee helped hand out hams.

Carolyn, who moved to the apartment building across the street from the church in August, attends the produce distribution regularly to pick up food. She volunteered to help hand out food for the first time during this special distribution.  

"It's nice for people who don't have enough money to stretch through the month, it really helps out," she said. "I think I'll keep [volunteering]. I enjoy it. It makes you feel like you're doing something good, helping people."

A distribution volunteer holds a vine of tomatoes

Carolyn, a regular food distribution visitor, bags tomatoes during her volunteer shift.

Austin and Brock are Penske employees who drove the truck full of produce down from the Twin Cities and stayed to help with the distribution. Brock had been part of the food distribution previously, but it was Austin’s first time and he was surprised by the amount of people who attended.

“My initial thought was how many people are going to show up for food on Monday, but pulling in and seeing how long the line is--it’s amazing,” said Austin. “The line hasn't shortened since we showed up. So, it's an awesome partnership.”

Two drivers stand outside of a Penske truck

Austin and Brock from Penske Truck Rental.

This month, cars were already lined up at 7:45 a.m. for the food distribution that was scheduled to start much later that morning.  

“We're supposed to start at 11. Sometimes we have 150 [families pick up food], but we've already gone through that many families,” said Wendy at 10:45 a.m. “We’re thankful we can do it.”