Minnesota has long been part of “America’s Breadbasket,” but that doesn’t mean food is always easy to come by.
One of the less-discussed symptoms of the 2008 recession is a lasting inflation in food prices. Global food prices spiked in 2008 and only recently began to recover, dipping below crisis levels around 2015. But as of 2017, prices have been increasing once again and demands are on the rise.
The Jordan Area Food Shelf is stepping up to meet those needs on a local level; 781 families have used the Jordan Area Food Shelf to populate their dinner table over the years. This summer the local food bank moved from a century-old building on First Street to a more modern, spacious location on Water Street.
According to a 2017 USDA Household Food Security study, 9.5% of Minnesota households lack access to adequate food. This is typically due to lack of money and other resources and sometimes only applies to certain periods of the year.
Those numbers bare out in Jordan, where the Jordan Area Food Shelf serves 10% of area residents. A decade ago, that number was 6%. This was at a time when global food prices were surging and the Jordan Area Food Shelf was considering closing. However, the food shelf was kept alive by the efforts of then city councilwoman Tanya Velishek and former police chief Bob Malz, who brought local churches together and reorganized the food shelf into the nonprofit it is today.
“I love the food shelf,” said Velishek, food shelf chairwoman and Jordan mayor. “People need to eat, it’s a way to bring all the churches together to offer something to the community.”
For more than a decade, food shelf volunteers made a small, 19th century building work as their base of operations.
“If we had three families in there it was a little cramped and one of the things is definitely being conscientious of people’s privacy,” volunteer Teena Medick said. “If you got more than two or three families in there it lost that private feel.”
Storage for food used to be slim to none, Medick said. Large food drives were always welcomed and successful, but additional work was constantly required to find places to store the food before it went on the shelf. Early this year, the food shelf purchased the building that previously housed the Tree of Life Church at 312 Water Street. The food shelf was closed in April as volunteers spruced up the new building and moved the store of food.
In July, the food shelf re-opened with a completely new vibe. Gone are the days of the cramped food pantry. Visitors are now offered more of a grocery store experience with aisles of food, fresh veggies and a refrigerated section to peruse.
“You pick up what you need and then you leave,” Velishek said. “Some food shelves give you a bag full of groceries, we let you walk around and get what you need.”
Visitors are allowed to take home 23 pounds of food per family member Velishek said. Last Saturday 500 pounds of food left their doors on what was described as a “slow day.” The food shelf is only open from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays and 6:30-7:30 p.m. Wednesdays, but Velishek said they will typically serve five to 12 families in those three hours. The type of folks who visit the food shelf are as varied and diverse as the food selection.
“It’s not what people think,” Velishek said. “It’s also your working class that needs that little boost, or if someone lost their job — we’re really focused on assisting the whole community.”
And it takes a community to serve one. Regular donations are made to the food shelf from all kinds of local businesses, including Radermacher’s Super Value, Wagner’s Apple Orchard, Lunds & Byerlys in Prior Lake and local farmers.
“A lot of the people don’t like to be recognized, they just do it,” Velishek said.
The increased storage space and revamped layout has allowed the food shelf to better serve the community, but Velishek’s vision for the future of the organization also played a key part in motivating the move.
“The reason we moved into this building was because my hopes are to have a free sliding-scale clinic and offer free dentistry and possibly have clothes and other options for people who are in need,” Velishek said.
A sliding scale clinic model bases the price of services on a customer’s ability to pay. Velishek, who works in St. Paul as a nurse practitioner, said she is pursuing her resources to see if there is interest from other medical professionals to donate their services to the clinic project.
Only about half the space is currently used for food shelf activities. The other side is populated with three private office rooms and a waiting room. Velishek said she’d like to install a TV in the waiting room that informs visitors about simple steps they can take to improve their health and well being — something she has already achieved in a Peruvian clinic where she donates her time and services.
“I have these videos that I want to put up while they’re waiting for one of us to see them. Then they can go ‘Oh yea, my kids need vaccinations,’ or ‘Oh yes, I should get a flu shot so I don’t get the flu.’”
Velishek hopes to fill the vacant offices as soon as possible. Current ideas include chiropractic and dental services, lactation space, haircuts and general checkups. Looking further into the future, the food shelf may one day offer clothes for those in need. In the meantime, they’re working on transforming some green space behind the building into a community garden that would help fill the shelves.
“It’s a great opportunity to provide healthy food because with food drives you get nonperishable foods, which may not be the healthiest items,” Medick said.
Other available space might allow the food shelf to one day include a soup kitchen or special food offerings further in the future. But for now, the organization is focusing on its core tenet: feeding the Jordan community.
“There are people who, at this time in there life, maybe just need a little bit of help — well we’re here,” Velishek said. “We can’t fix the world’s problems, but we’re here to help.”
Updated 11:40 a.m. Friday
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