Waconia United Food Shelf will look different inside and out in just a few weeks.
Inside, the main floor where food shelf clients shop will get a full remodeling, while upstairs, storage space will be turned into meeting rooms and classrooms for a new life skills program expected to begin early next year.
Outside, the food shelf will get a new name, Gather and Grow: Waconia United Food Shelf, new signage and a new visual identity. The rebranding reflects the changes that are taking place to the food shelf, which has operated out of the former bank building at 9 Elm Street for nearly 20 years.
It’s all about enhancing the shopping experience for food shelf clients, reducing the stigma and connecting individuals and families to other support services, says Angie Cruzen, who is completing her first year as food shelf executive director.
“Our heartfelt mission is to provide fresh food, high quality groceries and supportive services to our community,” Cruzen said.
The food shelf refresh has been in the planning stages for several months, and building owner St. Joseph’s Catholic Community recently authorized the upgrade, which will begin in mid-October. The food shelf also has secured $18,000 through various grants, so no food shelf monetary donations will go to building improvements. Those dollars will be directed to food purchases only; however, groups and individuals are welcome to contribute to the building improvements, Cruzen said.
Food shelf improvements include new lighting, new flooring, upgraded heating and air conditioning, sprinkler system installation, a fresh coat of paint and a new floor plan.
The space also will be more open giving it the feel of grocery style shopping, while the new floor plan also will enhance the shopping experience, Cruzen said.
The floor plan was created through University of Minnesota-Extension’s “SuperShelf’ initiative intended help food shelves with infrastructure enhancements to improve the supply of healthy foods at food pantries, and use behavioral and education strategies to encourage health eating, particularly with populations at high risk for chronic disease.
For example, the new floor plan features a large area for fresh produce upon entry to the building and healthier food options will be placed prominently on shelves.
And instead of checking in first, food shelf clients will do their shopping, then check out like they would at any supermarket register.
Cruzen notes the approach is consistent with food partner Second Harvest Heartland’s “boundaryless” philosophy where “no one should ever go hungry,” whether that’s making sure kids have the food they need to learn in school, relieving the stress of an empty cupboard for parents, or giving seniors a little bit more so they can stretch their dollars every month.
Cruzen explains that individuals “don’t have to be begging on the street to use food shelf services, but may be just a just a paycheck short in a particular month.”
In fact, as COVID-19 benefits cease, the food shelf is seeing an increase of about 20 families a month through its doors, Cruzen said.
Cruzen also notes that food instability can be tied to many factors, such as job loss, access to high quality foods, nutrition and dietary awareness when it comes to food selection, even mental health considerations.
A program coming next year after the remodel, tentatively called Proper, is intended to connect the food shelf to other supportive services, such as assistance with job assessments, applications and hiring processes; dietary, nutrition and cooking programs; and mental health and life coaching assistance.
For now, the focus is on upgrading and refreshing the 1980s era building. Several local contractors have been lined up to perform the work scheduled to occur Oct. 18-30. Shopping will be curbside only during construction and the food shelf will require additional volunteers prior to construction to help with relocating and storage.