The Pipestone County Food Shelf is using grant funds to transform its space in a way intended to encourage its clients to select more of their healthier foods.
Changes will include additional coolers to keep produce fresher and longer-lasting, and two new produce display shelves positioned up front as the first thing Food Shelf clients will see when they enter. The Food Shelf currently has fresh produce available, but it is stored on shelving in a couple different areas throughout the space.
“The theory is when you take your shopping cart at the grocery store and you pick up certain items and your shopping cart gets kind of full, toward the end you don’t take quite as much because there’s not a lot of room left in your cart,” said Lorelei Schelhaas, SNAP-ed educator with the University of Minnesota (U of M) Extension Office in Pipestone. “The theory is you put the fruits and vegetables right here in the front and you make them look nice.”
New signs in English and Spanish will be installed to show where food categories are, such as fruits and vegetables and cooking and baking.
Roger Raschke, president of the Pipestone County Food Shelf, said the way clients are able to choose their food will also change. Once the project is complete, clients will have more choice in what they select for food as they’ll be guided by food categories rather than number of items. A family of two, for example, can now take four cans of vegetables and two cans of fruit. After the change, they could take eight cans from the fruits and vegetables category. That could be eight cans of corn or a mix of various fruits and vegetables, according to their preference.
In addition, the updates to the Food Shelf will include painting the walls and ceiling, creating a more private space to register when picking up food, cleaning the carpets and putting up decorative banners.
“It’s just kind of sprucing it up — making it look more like the grocery store,” Schelhaas said.
The Food Shelf received $8,600 in grant funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) through the SuperShelf program earlier this year to make the changes. The SuperShelf program is a partnership of several organizations including the U of M Extension Health and Nutrition team and the U of M Department of Family Medicine and Community Health.
The program started in 2017 in nine metro area food shelves.
“They did a study, and it’s still ongoing, with this first group,” Schelhaas said. “They were seeing if people would actually eat healthier by being nudged in different ways by the way you set up your food shelf, what you offer, your choices and that kind of thing. They had such good results from the first round that they did, so they offered some more grant money out to outstate.”
Raschke applied for the grant funds during the first round of funding in 2017. He found out this spring that the Pipestone County Food Shelf would be receiving funds.
“I was happy,” Raschke said. “What I’ve been trying to do is make this more inviting for people when they come in if they’re looking for assistance.”
The Food Shelf will be closed Thursday, Sept. 5 while the updates are made and will reopen as usual at 2 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 12.
Raschke said 483 households consisting of 1,595 individuals utilized the Food Shelf in 2018. That’s about 17.6 percent of Pipestone County’s population. Raschke said usage reached a high point in 2015 when about 20 percent of the county’s population used the Food Shelf. Use declined a bit toward the end of 2016 and has remained consistent since then, he said.
In 2018 the Food Shelf distributed 152,290 pounds of food to clients, including over 48,000 pounds of fresh fruit and vegetables from food bank Second Harvest Heartland. The Food Shelf also receives food from local businesses and donors.
It is staffed by volunteers from 16 local churches and the Good Samaritan Society.
When clients visit the Food Shelf they register at a front desk and take a cart around the room and select what they want. Clients can visit the Food Shelf once a month for most items, but Raschke said they can also come the second and fourth Thursdays when the fresh produce is delivered and pick up produce only.
“In theory, they could come the first week of the month and get everything, except we don’t have any produce to speak of,” he said. “Then they could come the next week and get produce and they can come the fourth week and get produce.”
In addition to the produce, Raschke said clients can also take bread, milk, eggs and margarine during those times even if they’ve already been to the Food Shelf that month.
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