Steele County Food Shelf strives to help those in need
People experience financial troubles for many reasons. They may have lost a job, become ill or face a number of countless other obstacles. That’s where the Steele County Food Shelf comes in.
The food shelf, located at 155 Oakdale Street in Owatonna, is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and offers a variety of resources for Steele County residents in need of a little extra help. The food shelf can provide a 10-day supply of groceries to visitors, a daily supply of perishable foods, nutrition information and also offers referrals and additional information about other available area programs. Last month alone, the food shelf served more than 500 households.
“We’re trying to coordinate efforts with people that are working with the Backpack Program, the food pantries, the food shelf, so that we’re not missing anyone in our community that is in need,” said Stormy Trom, Steele County Food Shelf executive director. “We also want to let people know that, whatever crisis comes, we’re here to help.”
The food shelf offers a generous variety of food, which includes all food groups, from fresh fruit and vegetables to breads, meats and other necessities. Much of the food has been donated by area businesses, churches, individuals and even other non-profit organizations.
The Steele County Food Shelf also applies for grants and takes part in programs such as Give to the Max, Food Share month in March and still others. Organizations like United Way also support the food shelf. Right now, through a state grant, Channel One is even able to deliver fresh fruits and vegetables at no cost to the food shelf once a week.
Families can pick up packages of food, filled with pre-selected, nutritious items. “Our emphasis really is making sure we put together a nutritional package that’s going to provide that family with at least ten day’s worth of groceries,” said Trom.
It’s also possible for visitors to take home daily servings of breads, produce or any other items that the food shelf may have in excess.
Trom and food shelf manager Alonso Hernandez are the food shelf’s only two paid staff members. Just as the food shelf is stocked largely by donations, volunteers complete many of the food shelf’s operations. “We survive because of the volunteers,” said Hernandez.
Earl Smith has volunteered at the food shelf for the past 12 years and said he immensely enjoys the experience. “It’s a real blessing,” said Smith of the food shelf. “It’s just neat to be able to help people that need it and I think that people appreciate what’s before them.”
Smith said he also would encourage others to consider volunteering in their community. “It’s a neat way to share what the Lord has done for you in your life, too,” he said. “I think Owatonna’s pretty much that kind of community anyway; there’s a lot of people serving and volunteering. But there can always be more volunteers that are needed. You have to do it to understand how much you are appreciated as a volunteer.”
Abshiro Abdulle, another Steele County Food Shelf volunteer, has been helping at the food shelf for about one year. “I enjoy it,” she said. “I love seeing new faces every day and I enjoy the conversations. I enjoy the community.”
Volunteers assist food shelf visitors, keep records of all food, help keep the shelves stocked and assist with a variety of other tasks. In addition, a board of directors (currently with 14 members) also works to promote the best interests of the food shelf. “What we try to do is to have a diverse group with representation from one of each one of the communities in the county, so we can make sure we can keep in touch with all the needs of the county,” said Trom.
Volunteers and board members represent the Owatonna, Medford and Blooming Prairie communities, but anyone interested in helping is encouraged to inquire. “We have great community support, but we are always looking for additional volunteers,” Trom said.
The food shelf also strives to help visitors stay educated about the importance of a balanced diet. Near the food, posters displaying nutritional information are visible. There’s also additional information, including recipes and meal ideas, available.
“We can teach people about more nutritious food,” Hernandez said. “When we started here, we gave food just to cure the hunger, and now that we have more resources, we can buy better foods, more nutritious food for them, because we don’t want to be part of obesity.”
Steele County Food Shelf also places great importance on the visitors’ experiences. “We give people respect and dignity because they deserve it,” said Hernandez. “Some people don’t want to come because they are embarrassed but I was a client and I know how it is. I know how important it is to have a food shelf, because you never know when you will need it.”
People in need of assistance can call or stop in to apply. The application takes, on average, about 15 minutes to complete. Interested persons need to bring a rental or lease agreement or an electric bill when they apply.
More information about the food shelf is available at http://steelecountyfoodshelf.org/. Or, call the Steele County Food Shelf at (507) 455-2991 to learn more.