MINNETONKA — Food shelves and emergency service providers in the Lake Minnetonka area have seen an increase in people reaching out for help as the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak causes people to lose work and has children home from school.

The ICA Food Shelf in Minnetonka and Interfaith Outreach and Community Partners in Plymouth have closed their buildings to the public but continue to offer needed services such as food and financial assistance for rent and utilities. They’re just providing these services in a different way. Instead of clients coming into the food shelf, the organizations are using a drive-up model so clients can drive up and a staff member will load pre-packed bags of groceries in their vehicle. Meanwhile, other services, like financial assistance, are being handled over the phone, the organizations have said.

Monika Salden, ICA communications manager, told Lakeshore Weekly News on March 19 they have seen a “substantial increase” in the amount of people seeking help and have heard from a lot of people who have never used their services before.

“On a normal day, we have two people covering the front desk phones. This week, we have needed three or four to handle the call volume,” Salden said last week.

The food shelf has seen a “large increase” in the number of people stopping by for emergency bags (bags filled with non-perishable foods), Salden said. And ICA’s case managers have been “very busy” connecting people to other resources and services they need right now.

“We are here to help. We are open and we are planning to stay open,” Salden said. “We will continue to adapt as the situation demands. But if you need help, please call us and come get food. We are here for you and we will continue to be here for you.”

The increasing need for food and financial help is expected to grow in the coming days and weeks.

“We absolutely expect a spike in requests for all kinds of help that fall into that essential service category,” LaDonna Hoy, the executive director of Interfaith Outreach, told the paper on March 19. “As people are losing more time from work ... this is something we know is going to happen.”

Hoy added that all the west-suburban organizations and food shelves are anticipating an increase in need and they’re all learning as the situation evolved.

“It’s a very challenging time for all of us,” Hoy said.

Interfaith Outreach is focusing on providing the essential services — food, emergency financial assistance and welcoming new clients — during the COVID-19 pandemic. It may change how it offers services based on direction from state officials.

“We’re just trying, again, to maintain our food shelf and our essential services as a dependable community resource,” Hoy said.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

The most helpful thing someone can do for area food shelves is giving financially, ICA and Interfaith said.

“Right now, given the need to keep physical distance, what is most helpful are funds,” Hoy said. “Donations of cash enable us to buy more product, more food product, which minimizes the number of touches when people decide to donate food.”

For every $1 donated, ICA can buy up to $10 worth of food, “and the fewer hands that touch food right now, the better,” Salden said.

Hoy is thankful for members of the community who have already donated and said clients have expressed their gratitude toward the entire community that is known for stepping up and helping when it matters.

Donations can be made on the organizations’ websites. ICA Food Shelf serves the communities of Hopkins, Minnetonka, Excelsior, Shorewood, Deephaven, Greenwood and Woodland. Its website is www.icafoodshelf.org. Interfaith Outreach serves the communities of Hamel, Long Lake, Medicine Lake, Medina, Minnetonka Beach, Orono, Plymouth and Wayzata. Its website is www.iocp.org.

Melissa Turtinen is the community editor for Lakeshore Weekly News and Eden Prairie News. She's passionate about adding context to stories and informing people about what's going on in their community. She enjoys being outside, traveling and good beer.

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