An outside view of Cavalry Food Shelf

Prioritizing Dignity and Accessibility at Calvary Food Shelf

Calvary Lutheran Church has housed a small food shelf for more than 40 years, but when the pandemic and events following the murder of George Floyd brought heightened need to the area, Calvary expanded their food support.

Long-time volunteer, Chris, said that Food Shelf Manager Melissa, “has been absolutely tireless.” She stepped into her leadership role during the rising need of the pandemic and has helped manage the food shelf’s rapid growth.

Gayle, a volunteer who is retired from a 50-year career in food production, got involved after the murder of George Floyd when she was looking for ways to support her community. Nearly four years later, she is still volunteering and motivated to provide a dignified shopping experience for her neighbors. 

A volunteer poses at a food shelf

After a career in food service, volunteering at the food shelf is a natural fit for Gayle.

During her shift, Gayle sorts and shelves groceries to make the food shelf look as much like a grocery store as possible. “Our customers can come and pick and choose what they want,” says Gayle. “They're shopping for themselves.”

It’s not just the shopping experience that makes her proud, but the products available. She says, “what’s nice about this [food shelf] is the proteins that they get and the fresh fruits and vegetables and dairy.”

That’s exactly what one shopper, Orgalilia, was looking for. As a single mother, Orgalilia said the food shelf was “a lifeline for us.” She always looks for fresh fruits, vegetables, and cultural foods that are familiar to her family.

Amy is the assistant coordinator for the food shelf and has prioritized the shopper experience in her role. She wants shoppers to feel like they are at a store where they can take their time. After checking in, shoppers walk the aisles and select their items on their own. They also moved to an appointment system which has significantly cut down on wait times and allows more equitable access to those without the time or stamina to stand in line.

A volunteer takes potatoes in bags off of a shelf

Amy went from volunteer to paid staff and is really passionate about her role, saying, "I really enjoy working with people. I just feel really passionate about food security."

One of Amy’s responsibilities is coordinating the delivery program, which allows some neighbors to place their order over the phone on a Monday and have their groceries delivered the following day.

Even outside of the formal delivery program, volunteers like Gayle step in when they see a need. Gayle and other volunteers will offer a ride home to shoppers if they find it too difficult to take their groceries home on the bus.

Calvary Food Shelf is also making proactive changes that favor the wellbeing of their volunteers. To help with volunteer availability, sustainability and retention, they recently shortened the standard volunteer shift. Chris remembers when they had longer, four-hour volunteer shifts, “I can tell you, those Saturday mornings, my husband and I would get home and we were done for the day.” As the need for food shelves increases, so does the need for volunteers to keep the operations running. 

Calvary Food Shelf is deeply committed to providing quality food and equitable access to the families in their community. Here, a series of thoughtful program decisions add up to the positive and dignified experience that this community—and all communities—deserve.

Learn more about Calvary Food Shelf here: