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.
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.
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.”
The effects of COVID-19 have been felt by small business owners since the start of the pandemic nearly one year ago and as the holiday season approaches business owners are still seeing a lack of customers in what is supposed to be their busiest time of the year.
In downtown Prior Lake there is a focus to support the locally-owned businesses that line the streets by reminding residents to consider purchasing local goods and services when they go out to do their Christmas shopping.
According to the Prior Lake Chamber of Commerce, out of every $100 spent locally, $68 stays in Prior Lake whereas when spending in a chain store only $43 stays in town.
Local business feels pandemic pinchPrior Lake boutique Wild Ruffle is among the many small businesses who have been impacted by the pandemic and the restrictions that have come along with it. It’s been a challenging battle since the beginning, Wild Ruffle co-owner Tammy Hiveley said.
Community members have showed their support for small business throughout the months but as the holiday shopping season approaches, shop sales just don’t compare to the years past, she said.
“This fourth quarter this fall when it’s supposed to be our busiest time of the year has been really like a first quarter sales, so it’s been rough to order new things to keep our stores full and stocked without the sales coming in,” Hiveley said.
Like many shops, Wild Ruffle has had to adapt and upped their online presence so customers have the option to shop from home. Goods can be shipped, picked up in-store, curbside and in some instances even dropped off.
Hiveley said she feels blessed for the support she has seen from the community which is “crucial” during these times and helps to keep the doors of small businesses open.
“Our hope is that we see people buying their Christmas presents with us and shopping downtown and not forgetting that we’re here,” Hiveley said.
Downtown Prior Lake has experienced a lot of growth in the last several years and Hiveley would like to see it continue to become a destination spot for nearby shoppers despite the pandemic, she said.
“2020 is different and we want to get back to where we were in 2019, where we were a destination spot,” Hiveley said. “If we don’t continue to support all of these little shops it will go back to where we were years ago without any commerce downtown.”
‘Eat local. Shop local. Stay local.’The community can help support local businesses by purchasing the one-of-a-kind and locally made items offered in Prior Lake stores and can do so safely in-person, online and through pickup services offered by the businesses, Chamber President Sandi Fleck said.
Downtown Prior Lake offers a unique experience for shoppers with the variety of businesses from boutiques to breweries to studios and services. In these unprecedented times these businesses need the support of the community more than ever, Fleck said.
“Think about buying locally because they’re the ones that were here for us before COVID and we want them to be here after,” Fleck said. “The owners of those shops live locally, they worship locally, they also shop locally. It’s just being supportive of your friends, neighbors and relatives.
”To help support local businesses the chamber is hosting a Gift Card — Golden Ticket Giveaway.Through Dec. 13, community members can purchase gift cards to participating downtown businesses such as Stems & Vines, Edelweiss, Fong’s and more to be entered into a drawing for the golden ticket of $500 of chamber bucks. Every $25 spent is an entry into the drawing which will take place Dec. 16. Gift cards can be purchased at priorlakechamber.com and will be mailed out.