by Nicole Brodzik
With the new building ready for move-in, the Westonka Food Shelf set up in its new home last Saturday.
The Grace Family Center on Commerce Boulevard in Mound is now the permanent location for the Westonka Food Shelf after spending the summer inside Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church.
The Mound Westonka football team, members of Mound’s American Legion and community members were there to help facilitate the move and organize the products in the new space.
“All of the money we get goes right back to the community, so it’s so nice to have all the help we’ve been getting,” Food Shelf Volunteer Michelle Repp said.
The space itself was paid for by donations and fundraisers, most of which were put on by OLL. The Grace Family Center is located on the church’s property and they have donated the space and utility payments to the food shelf to help keep them payment-free. The Grace Family Center will also be home to PennyWise Thrift Store and has a conference room for nonprofit groups to rent, free of charge.
Everything they use, down to their shelving units, have been donated. They’ve even had shovels and wheelbarrows donated for use with the grounds by members of the community.
“That’s one of the best things about being a part of this,” Westonka Food Shelf Director Shelly Sir said, “We ask and it just shows up. The community is so helpful.”
Sir is one of many volunteers who donates her time to help the organization avoid overhead costs. She credits the volunteers who run the food shelf for the positive experience patrons get when they visit the shelf each week.
“The people that are here want to be here,” she said. “No one’s here because they need to be, so we know our volunteers love helping and create a really positive experience for the people we serve.”
Sir said she believes the new space will help to keep that positive experience going for the families and individuals who rely on the food shelf. With a bigger space, they’ll allow people to shop on their own, walking through the aisles and deciding which items they want, as opposed to being given a bag of preselected food.
“We’ll keep an eye on things, but we want people to feel like they’re just going to the grocery store,” Repp said.
They’ve had refrigerators, shelving and displays donated as well and hope that the updated equipment creates a much more inviting feel for patrons. Repp said they plan to arrange the space to invite shoppers to pick up healthier items as well. Patrons are allowed one weekly visit to pick up fresh produce, along with a monthly full grocery haul for the rest of their needs.
“We want to promote healthy lifestyles for everyone,” Repp said. “So we’ve got new tables we’ll arrange with produce and healthier items where it’s easy to see and grab. We can’t force people to eat healthier, but we hope we can make doing that easier.”
The Westonka Food Shelf accepts food donations, within government guidelines for expiration dates, as well as cash donations, which they say can go much further to help their patrons.
“It’s great when people donate food,” Sir said, “We always appreciate that, but when people donate money, we can turn $10 into $100.”
The food shelf uses a couple of local food banks to help stock their shelves and said those banks help to keep food cheap for the families that need it, including their four-legged friends.
“We get those big, 40-pound bags of dog food for about 40 cents,” Sir said. “We want to help the whole family.”
For more information on how donate or how to get assistance, visit http://westonkafoodshelf.wixsite.com/westonkafoodshelf.