After a recent expansion of the food shelf at Hastings Family Service in the summer of 2022, Deana Dunning, Director of Operations, and Amy Schaffer, Food Shelf Manager, were operating in survival mode. Needing some support to reimagine their new space and processes, they reached out to FFEN to inquire about their consultation services. That was last August, and Hastings has been growing and thriving ever since


Amy Schaffer, Food Shelf Manager

Deana Dunning, Director of Operations

Both Deana and Amy, who started work at Hastings on the same day just over a year ago, are grateful that FFEN was able to help them navigate a host of decisions and move them from struggling and feeling overwhelmed to having an intentional and strategic plan for the food shelf. Through FFEN’s Food Sourcing Analysis (FSA) Report they were able to streamline their processes and meet the needs of more of their neighbors (their name for shoppers) who frequent the market (their name for the food shelf). And they both claim that their growth and success would not have been possible without “their fairy godparents, FFEN.”

The work between Hastings and FFEN has been a partnership and collaborative effort in every sense. Hastings initially brought their wish list to the table and FFEN weighed in with their evidence-based expertise and knowledge as an invaluable resource. Though they did not necessarily follow a linear path to where they are today, their conversations and interactions were always appreciated. FFEN often challenged Hastings along the way, and flexibility has been key to continuous improvements at Hastings.

Hastings Family Service Food Shelf – Shopping Area

Hastings Family Service Warehouse Space

Not only are Deana and Amy enthusiastic about their current operations, but also for the respect they have for their neighbors, which is evident in all they say and do. Their goal is laser-focused on doing their very best and providing them with the most positive shopping experience possible in a respectful and dignified environment.

Perhaps the most significant way to make that happen was shifting the food shelf operation to a choice model from their former shopping list model. This straightforward process enables families to easily make food selections based on the size of their family, choosing the foods they prefer from within color-coded categories. Following easy-to-use reusable signage, neighbors have the flexibility and autonomy to choose what works the very best for their own individual family unit. It’s a customized, grocery-store approach to shopping, versus the previous one-and-done shopping list model where every family was offered the same items in different quantities. Not only is the new model a more streamlined and faster way to shop, but it’s also so much more convenient for staff and volunteers—the new system doesn’t require constant list maintenance and upkeep as foods run out or become unavailable. And the choice model has enabled Hastings to double the number of people they serve since before the update.

An example of the Shopping List used by Hastings Family Service previously

Examples of the Color Code category system used by the Hastings Food Shelf currently

Examples of the Color Code category system used by the Hastings Food Shelf currently

Deana and Amy also have a commitment to obtaining feedback consistently, from both neighbors and volunteers. The role of the Minnesota Food Shelf Survey, paired with the FSA Report, puts all the pieces together to help tell the whole Hastings story. Deana and Amy have gathered a wealth of positive feedback about the new choice model. They also have learned that the changes actually have eliminated some of the past barriers experienced by neighbors, particularly the language barriers associated with the old shopping list model.

So now that they are sailing forward, what is in store for Hastings Family Service in the months and years to come? Deana and Amy are happy to be settled into their current model and “just live with those changes for awhile.” But like any good food shelf leaders, they will not be sitting still for long, as they are working on a new concept for the fall: instituting a mini-market at a local middle school to bring their operation “on the road,” allowing greater food access to those who may be more comfortable seeking some support by walking into a school building than food shelf facility. Innovations like these will make their community even stronger. And, thanks to their relationship with FFEN, they can become reality.