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.
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."