Choice is in at Burnsville food shelf

Kelly Jansen, of Burnsville, inspected her “shopping menu” March 31, the day the 360 Communities food shelf in Burnsville debuted its new “choice” model. (Photo by John Gessner)

New model helps 360

Communities get closer to clients

Business as usual was suspended Monday, March 31, at the 360 Communities food shelf in Burnsville.

The food shelf is still busy, serving 15 to 20 households every weekday. It’s the way people are served that has changed.

360 Communities, a Burnsville-based nonprofit serving Dakota County residents, has switched to a “choice” model for the food shelf at its Burnsville Family Resource Center on East Highway 13.

The new model allows clients to “shop” for their food items while encouraging more interaction with staffers and volunteers who might steer them toward other needed services.

“You have choices in a time where it feels like most things are out of control. It gives you that sense of control,” said Anika Rychner, 360’s director of self-sufficiency. “I think most importantly, it’s giving us more of an opportunity to build relationships and trust with people we’re serving.”

The Burnsville food shelf, one of five in Dakota County run by 360, used to prepackage food orders that clients would pick up by appointment.

Now the appointment includes shopping. Volunteers, known as “personal shoppers,” are on hand to explain clients’ food choices and show them around the supermarket-style shelves, refrigerators and freezers.

With the change, 360 has also improved the intake process for food-shelf clients, Rychner said. Being short of cash to buy food often isn’t their only problem. 360 also  offers services around domestic violence, sexual assault, success in school and building long-term sufficiency.

“That’s where we get to the heart of the matter,” Rychner said. “Because food brings people to our door, but when people need food, they usually need other kinds of support that we are able to offer.”

One of Monday’s visitors was 54-year-old Kelly Jansen, of Burnsville. She was given a flat cart for her groceries and a “shopping menu.”

Jansen said using the food shelf is part of getting her life back together after her physically abusive husband shot and killed himself in November 2011, leaving her with unpaid bills. Jansen said she has also used 360’s Lewis House domestic violence shelter and told her story to clients there.

“I am a long ways from where I was,” Jansen said, radiating optimism.

Other Monday clients included a nervous first-timer who shopped for his family of five and had to be prodded to take everything allotted him based on family size, Rychner said.

Another first-timer, who had lost her job, had trouble reading her shopping menu through her tears, Rychner said. A volunteer came to help.

The choice model is a dignity-booster in a food-shelf setting, she said.

“It’s very much a best practice among food shelves all over the metro area,” Rychner said.

The food-shelf space in Burnsville was rearranged to accommodate the new model.

“Just like in a grocery store, you have cans that are lined up and labels facing forward,” Rychner said. “Anything we can do to make people feel as comfortable as possible.”

Two new refrigerators and two new freezers were bought with help from the Burnsville Noon and Breakfast Rotary Clubs, which contributed $8,000 after landing a grant from the Hunger-Free Minnesota campaign.

Volunteer staffers at the food shelf, which is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays, typically include two personal shoppers, two stock workers and two warehouse workers, Rychner said.

360’s Lakeville food shelf, a partnership with Messiah Lutheran Church, may also adopt the choice model, Rychner said.

For more information on 360 Communities food shelves, call 952-985-5300 or visit www.360communities.org.

 

 

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