Rock County Food Shelf in Luverne, Minnesota has continued to evolve to meet community needs since its founding. Originally created as a cupboard in 1983, it was expanded into a room in a church in 1998, and then became its own 501(c)3 nonprofit in 2015.
In 2021, they sought help from FFEN with the next step in their evolution: moving to a larger space and implementing a new service model. Food shelf leaders identified a new location that was four times bigger than their outgrown current space. It was also more accessible being street level. Rock County Food Shelf asked FFEN to help create an efficient and optimized food shelf layout. They also wanted support transitioning back to in-person shopping. During initial conversations, FFEN helped identify that there was an opportunity to further maximize resources so that shoppers could get more healthy foods for less cost to the organization.
FFEN helped the food shelf with layout design and signage, ordered a new cooler and freezer so they could consistently offer meat, fresh produce, and dairy, and assisted with more efficient food sourcing. The food shelf was also able to move away from a grocery store voucher system (providing clients with a paper voucher to be redeemed for particular items at the local grocery store) because now shoppers could get everything they needed from the food shelf. Overall, the changes provided a more dignified, positive food shelf experience.
“We’ve gotten a lot of good feedback. People are like, ‘We love this,’” explains Katie, Rock County Food Shelf volunteer and board member. “They love not having the vouchers and not going to the grocery store. I think they feel a little more dignity because they can just go and we’re not looking over their shoulder to make sure what they’re taking.”
After the project, Rock County Food Shelf was able to give twice as much produce to shoppers, more than triple the amount of TEFAP (USDA commodity food that is high quality and low cost for a food shelf) pounds per person, and decrease the cost to serve each individual by nearly 30%! Not only are these efforts increasing the healthy, fresh food items that shoppers want but it is also more financially sustainable for the organization.
The new layout, flow, and model have been well received by volunteers and shoppers. “The [food] is presented beautifully, everything is cleaned and ready to go and packaged, and it just looks like you’re at the grocery store,” says food shelf volunteer Mary. “I think our flow works really well,” adds Katie. “Of course our clients love it because they’re getting what they want, instead of we’re giving it to them. ”
As time goes on, FFEN will continue to support the Rock County Food Shelf through any future evolution to meet changing community needs.