Lonsdale Area Food Shelf (LAFS) is a volunteer-run organization serving the Lonsdale, Veseli and Webster communities in southeastern Minnesota by providing food, holiday meals and gifts, and backpacks and school supplies to those experiencing a time of need. In 2014, the volunteer-run LAFS launched their relationship with FFEN as a way to address their equipment needs for increased protein and dairy offerings. Last year, they reached out once again when the food shelf was notified that they needed to relocate from their current home in Lonsdale. FFEN stepped in to consult on both selection and layout of new space. When the new site at Trondhjem Lutheran Church was confirmed, LAFS identified their goals for optimizing their operation in their new space: To increase the amount of fresh produce provided and to offer shoppers more frequent, weekly access to those healthy, high-value choices.

FFEN volunteers worked with LAFS to make their goals become reality. Utilizing food shelf improvement funding from DHS-OEO, TEFAP Program (USDA commodity food that is high quality and low cost for a food shelf), two double glass door coolers were installed to ensure that these fresh food options were showcased and easily available. In addition, FFEN installed new signage at no cost to provide shoppers with clear and consistent messaging about their food choices. FFEN also has helped LAFS to reimagine their inventory processes and procedures.

Now that the transformation is complete, LAFS couldn’t be more pleased with the outcome. Client Service Coordinator Kathy Masters says her shoppers “are amazed at the whole transformation of our food shelf. From the parking lot, around the whole shopping area—they like that it’s like a grocery store atmosphere.”

As promised, the new space highlights fresh food items and produce that often is locally sourced. The new space provides a positive shopping experience for the community, and weekly access to the bonus room is slowly gaining traction. Food shelf access has increased by 400%—from monthly to weekly visits—from late 2020 to 2021, with three times more access to fresh foods during that same time period. Board member Brad Heimer states, “With our new space, it has provided us the opportunity to show off all the produce…there’s a lot more space for the produce to be available for clients to take.” And that means a healthier shopping experience for everyone.

Former LAFS lead volunteer and now Executive Director Mark Sibenaller leads the team as LAFS continues to refine its processes. And his gratitude to FFEN is apparent. “You got us started on a great path and continued to work with us and follow up after the move, after we were set-up in our routines. It’s a great mission you’re on and we truly appreciate it.”

LAFS is exploring food sourcing options and community collaborations including a newly-formed food rescue partnership with The Dollar Store, through their relationship with Channel One Regional Food Bank. FFEN continues to be available, sharing additional resources, assisting with data and budget analysis, and lending support to ensure that they achieve their goals and sustainability into the future.