In the early '70's, in response to an apparent dramatic increase in "street people" asking help from downtown churches, Plymouth Congregational Church Minister Howard Conn began addressing their hunger needs through the Plymouth community. In 1975 two Plymouth members, Mary Sandbo and Bev Norris, began collecting donated grocery and distributing them to those who were referred by Plymouth staff. As describes most new efforts to address a rising need, this was a modest beginning, and as Bev tells it, "Mary had the ideas, I was the foot person." While their efforts proved successful, their husbands encouraged them to get help. Consequently, a call for additional help was put out to many organizations in the area.

Immediately, three churches responded enthusiastically to the invitations — Westminster Presbyterian Church, First Christian Church and the Cathedral Church of St. Mark (Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church would join this collaborative effort several years later). As it turns out, these communities were experiencing the same dramatic increase in requests for help. The Very Reverend H. Douglas Fontaine, Dean of the Cathedral at the time, saw that the food shelf—a new idea in the Minneapolis area—could be a coordinated way of dealing with the challenge. Fontaine recalls: "There was an overlapping steady flow of need and the [individuals] could be screened better."

One of the earliest participants in this joint ministry was Mary Powell, a Minneapolis resident. She volunteered, served as a member of the board and by 1976 became the first paid staff member of the Food Shelf. One of her earliest challenges was managing the increased need. Fontaine remembers that it seemed the more the need was addressed the bigger the need became. Bev Norris remembers serving approximately 300 people each month in the beginning. Since 2011, the Food Shelf served an average of over 2,000 clients per month.

Groveland Food For Youth

Space doesn't permit describing all the changes that have happened at Groveland, however, two deserve some attention. "Groveland Food For Youth" is a program for this disturbingly invisible population—homeless and transitioning youth. It was created as a coordinated effort between Groveland and a Pillsbury United Communities program called “Street Survival”. This organization attempts to support young vulnerable members of the community. Street Survival's peer outreach workers staff the Food Shelf during dedicated hours in which the youth may obtain emergency supplies. Individuals who donate to Groveland support this effort as their contributions directly pay for food supplies, while Street Survival covers the labor.

Groveland Space Renovated

As hosts of the Food Shelf, Plymouth Congregational Church renovated the Groveland space in 2007. The Dutch door, initially installed as a security measure, is gone, as are the loud exhaust fans that were needed to vent all the old refrigeration units which are gone as well. This renovation made way for a transformation of Groveland itself from a dependent model, where a volunteer hands an already stuffed bag of goods through the open Dutch door, to a "choice" model. Now clients are welcome to browse the stocked shelves and choose what goods they specifically need. A walk-in refrigeration unit allows the Food Shelf to provide a wider range of frozen and refrigerated goods, and it improves the air quality while using much less energy.

A Neighborhood Food Shelf The individuals benefitting from these changes come from a broad geographic area south of downtown Minneapolis. In an effort to avoid overlapping services, food shelves operate in a designated area. As can be seen in the accompanying graphic, Groveland’s “territory” borders Grant St. on the North, I-35W on the East, 25th St. on the South, and Minneapolis city limits on the West. Most of Groveland’s clients come from the eastern portion of this area. However more are coming from the more affluent western area as more families are affected by rising food and gas prices and need the once a month grocery help provided by a food shelf.
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