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'Everyone has been impacted': food shelves contend with pandemic

In the early stages of the pandemic, food shelves throughout the Twin Cities southwest metro region saw record donation numbers as community members recognized an opportunity to help fill a need for their neighbors.

Now, though, agencies like the Community Action Partnership which provide needed food and supplies to residents of Scott, Carver and Dakota counties are witnessing the opposite effect.

“In the beginning we were receiving a lot of food and monetary donations, but that has gone down significantly,” CAP Food Shelf Coordinator Kim Wodtke said. “Approximately 90% of our volunteers have not returned and most likely won’t during the next six months.”

Wodtke says the holiday season — November through December — tends to be the busiest time at the food shelf as children are home from school for breaks (and now many for distance learning). Typically they rely on aid from food drives completed by businesses and schools, but Wodtke says there aren’t many of those happening this year.

“We assume this is due to people working from home and distance learning,” Wodtke said. “We often get a huge increase in donated food right before the holidays, which we aren’t sure will happen this year.”

Director of Bountiful Basket in Chaska Tom Redman said though the need doesn’t necessarily fluctuate along with the holiday season in his experience, it has increased throughout the year in 2020.

The main challenge has been physically getting resources to those in need amid changing guidelines for in-person gathering, he said.

Bountiful Basket has implemented a mobile food shelf program in partnership with other community organizations in Carver County.

Twice a month, buses take 500 pounds of food to residents of Carver, Chaska, Victoria and Chanhassen who lack transportation to get to the food shelf in person. Bountiful Basket also partners with the Humanity Alliance, which helps families and individuals by bringing them prepared meals. Finally, they’ve also partnered with both Carver and Hennepin counties to bring food to seniors, who are at higher risk for COVID-19 and may be unable to leave their homes.

CAP has pop-up donation sites open two to four times each week throughout the three counties they serve.

In Jordan, Executive Director Tanya Velishek, also the city’s mayor, said the Jordan Area Food Shelf has continued to serve between 10-15 families each Saturday, as well as assisting Jordan Public Schools with the “Schools Backpack Program.”

Velishek also said the food shelf is currently working with Scott County and CARES funding to provide other services for the community.

Need for volunteers

The need to social-distance has limited opportunities to volunteer with food shelves throughout Scott County, but has certainly not eliminated it.

“There’s one out of eight individuals (in Minnesota) that rely on food shelves or food distributions,” Redman said. “There’s a real need across the state for help.”

Community Projects Coordinator for the CAP Agency Mary Hernandez, said COVID-19 restrictions have had a tremendous impact on volunteer operations.

“Everyone has been affected,” Hernandez said.

Still, she says, volunteers are needed at a variety of levels, including at distribution sites.

Over the summer some in-person “shopping” was able to take place at the CAP Agency food shelf, but now thanks to rising case numbers, they’ve switched back to a drive-up, contactless model. Still, those who use the service have the option to complete a shopping list of the items they want to receive.

Wodtke says the biggest need for CAP right now is volunteer donation delivery drivers to transport food donated from local grocery stores back to the food shelf.

“When we are able to have donated fresh food daily, it makes a huge difference in the amount of food that clients receive,” Wodtke says.

Holiday season

Despite rising needs in other areas, many area food shelves are committed to providing some sort of Thanksgiving meal to those who rely on their services.

Redman said Bountiful Basket provides vouchers to their patrons so they can “shop” the food shelf for some sort of meal.

Velishek said the Jordan Food Shelf has started to distribute Thanksgiving meals and certificates for turkeys, and they’re working on putting together a plan for Christmas.

Also in Jordan, you can register for the second annual Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot 5K Run/Walk on Thursday, Nov. 26. Organizer Nate Warden says registration fees will go toward providing food for families in need at the Jordan Area Food Shelf. To sign up, visit bit.ly/3lvbnyy.

Other ways to support

For those who aren’t able to volunteer, there are other ways to help.

The CAP Agency is open for non-perishable food donations Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wodtke says monetary donations are always welcome, as well — a $1 donation can buy $9 worth of food from local food banks. The CAP Agency’s website is capagency.org.

Bountiful Basket is open for donations most days during the week with the exception of Thursdays. You can visit their website, bountifulbasketfoodshelf.org/, for more information about volunteering or donating.

Donations for the Jordan Food Shelf can be dropped off the second and fourth Wednesday of the month from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. and every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Radermacher’s in Jordan also has a donation box located within the store.

“We really appreciate all of (the community’s) donations and support to assist those families in our community that are in need,” Velishek said.

At the end of a difficult year, finding a way to serve our neighbors may be the unity we need, Hernandez said.

“We love our community and want to make sure everyone has food on their table,” said Hernandez. “We have come together and put (aside) everything that caused division to serve each other.”


After 26 years with the Jordan Fire Relief Association, Joe Moriarty retired from his position as Chief 3 in October 2020. “I am proud to have been a part of the thin red line called the JFD,” Moriarty wrote in his resignation letter. “It bears tremendous responsibility and one I gladly accepted no matter what the costs or consequences.”


Education
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Citing rising COVID numbers, Jordan Public Schools shifts to distance learning

At a Nov. 12 school board meeting, Jordan Public Schools administrators announced that due to a spike in countywide and citywide COVID-19 case numbers, all grades will be transitioned to distance learning by Nov. 23.

At the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year, JPS adopted a hybrid model where students were on a rotation for safe use of classroom space. Younger elementary students in grades K-4 were prioritized for building space.

Within the last two weeks, Scott County public health officials have reported a jump from 60.68 cases per 10,000 residents, to 105.81 per 10,000. The announcement of these numbers caused nearby districts including those in Shakopee, Burnsville, Savage and Prior Lake to transition their schools to completely online.

Last week, district administrators met to look at city-specific data. As of Nov. 7, there were 177.3 cases per 10,000 residents (97 confirmed cases) in Jordan.

Since Aug. 30, there have been a total of 18 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the district, including six in the last week alone. There were two new staff cases within the last week week, a total of seven since the school year began.

Superintendent Ranae Case Evenson said that although county and city case numbers are high, public health officials have not attributed school activities as a key contributing factor.

“Community spread has really started to impact our operations,” she said.

Case Evenson said staff were already spread thin with spacing needs to accommodate social-distancing while juggling both in-person and online students. When a staff member needs to be quarantined due to positive test results, it has become increasingly difficult to find someone else to fill in.

Jordan Elementary School Principal Melissa Barnett said as of Thursday, Nov. 12, staff has been scrambling to fill needs throughout the school.

“We’ve had to pull all of our (reading and math program) staff to help cover in classrooms . . . we also had to pull our ESL teacher . . . we’ve also lost half of our one-on-one para support as of today, which means teachers are having to take on more of that role in supporting our special ed students . . .” Barnett said.

Jordan High School Principal Jeff Vizenor said although the high school learning model provides more flexibility with many materials available online, when multiple teachers are out, issues begin to arise.

“I think it was Monday or Tuesday, we may have had five staff members out, and unfortunately they all kind of landed in the same grade level,” said Vizenor. “So we had students out in the commons for multiple hours a day. That’s where we see the effect most — it really affects a certain group of kids, and is a challenge to them.”

Jordan Middle School Principal Ben Bakeberg echoed the challenges COVID-19 has created in terms of classroom coverage.

“What typically in a normal year would be something we would just power through, we haven’t been able to do, and that’s had a significant impact on the programming that we’re doing,” said Bakeberg.

Back to distance learning

Students will complete the majority of their coursework online. However, unlike the distance model the district put in place in the spring, teachers will be on-site throughout the day for those who are identified as needing additional support. Students who may fall under this category include those with disabilities, English learners, students experiencing homelessness and those with other identified learning difficulties. Transportation for these students will be provided, Case Evenson said.

Grades K-4 will have a series of “student prep days” Nov. 16-17 to help them prepare to shift to online learning.

Grades 5-12 will rotate, with the “A” group on-site Nov. 16 and the “B” group Nov. 17, to prepare for the switch.

Nov. 18-20, there will be no school district-wide so staff can focus on preparing for Nov. 23, when all grades will be fully online.

Activities

Fall activities will finish out their seasons. If COVID cases and quarantines do not increase, there are no major staff challenges, and there are still teams to compete against. Winter activities and high school fine arts will continue.

‘Not the announcement we wanted to make’

“No one wants to be in this situation,” said School Board Clerk Sandy Burke. “But I also ask for the community’s help to try to get our numbers down so that we can return.”

Staff also encouraged community members to reach out to staff as they navigate the shift together.

“Follow the guidelines,” Burke said. “And hopefully that will help bring the numbers down, because everybody wants to get our kids back learning.”