Deanna Ralph, a student senator at Anoka Technical College, regularly sees students stop by the Student Success Center to snack on free popcorn. But that popcorn is all she’s ever seen some of them eat.

“They couldn’t afford to buy lunch,” Ralph said. “I see the need.”

Anoka Technical College, the Anoka Technical College Foundation and the Student Senate teamed up with Blaine-based Hope for the Community to open a food shelf on campus this month.

“We know students can’t learn when they’re hungry,” said Elaina Bleifield, vice president of academic and student affairs. “We’ve asked faculty and staff to help support this.”

Anoka Technical College students, faculty, staff and administration have answered the call to run the food shelf twice a week the first and third weeks of each month.

“You feel the excitement around here,” said Angie Homan, who works in records at the college. “It’s like electricity.”

Hope for the Community provides the equipment – fridges and freezers – and delivers the food.

Dr. Alan Goracke, senior pastor at Hope Church in Blaine, founded Hope for the Community, which opened its doors in 2010. He still serves as president of the nonprofit.

Goracke said at first, the organization didn’t have a clue what it was doing. They had no equipment and “put the food out in the snowbanks.”

In Hope for the Community’s first week, it served 27 families.

Today, Hope for the Community serves closer to 1,000 families a week between its three locations: Blaine, Elko/New Market and now, Anoka Technical College.

The Elko/New Market location opened its doors in 2018, and Goracke mentioned plans to open a fourth site somewhere in Anoka County in 2020, declining to be more specific.

“Our mission is to fight hunger and deliver hope,” Goracke said.

Anoka Technical College’s goal to open a food shelf for students was in line with that mission.

But some were surprised by the idea of the partnership, calling college students “entitled,” according to Goracke. He said he has never seen Anoka Technical College students act in such a manner.

Many are working full time, raising families and attending school.

“They’re some of the hardest working people,” Goracke said.

Expecting to feed about 50 people in its first week of operation, the Anoka Technical College food shelf brought in 2,500 pounds of food the first week of November.

When more than 100 students – double the expected number – showed up to bring home groceries, volunteers made plans to order more food ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday.

Hope for the Community sent 4,800 pounds of food for the second two-day distribution.

With the nonprofit’s buying power, it’s able to purchase 50 pounds of food for $2, according to Goracke. Each guest collects about 46 pounds of food when they visit the food shelf at Anoka Tech.

There are no income requirements for eligibility; guests are asked a few simple questions, but no one claiming to be hungry is turned away.

Nearly 10% of the student body came to collect groceries each of the two weeks in November, making selections based on dietary preferences.

The food shelf is set up like a store very intentionally, according to Goracke. Guests pick and choose what food they will eat.

On Nov. 19 and 20, all were offered bread, milk and eggs with additional protein choices – including a 10-pound turkey and a 5-pound pork roast – and so much more.

The Blaine Hope for the Community location, 1264 109th Ave. NE, opens its doors every Thursday from 2:30-5 p.m.

The Anoka Technical College shelf is open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. the first and third Tuesday of each month and from 3-6 p.m. the first and third Wednesday. (This schedule enables students coming to class during both daytime and evening hours to take advantage of the program.)

The college, with Hope for the Community, will assess how the food shelf operates in this first semester.

“Our goal is to be a hunger-free college,” Ralph said.

The progress already made toward that goal in this first month of the food shelf’s operation is truly something to be thankful for, according to Ralph. “It’s a blessing. It’s such a gift.”

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