Westonka Food Shelf gets helping hand for healthy eating

by Nicole Brodzik
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It looks like the entrance to any regular grocery store. There are shelves covered in fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables. There’s a big round table covered in pastries, bread and dinner rolls. Refrigerators line the far wall. They’re filled with yogurts, salads, birthday cakes, juice and fancy cheeses.

It’s all a part of the Westonka Food Shelf’s health equity initiative. Every week, patrons get to come visit the shelf’s entry space and pick out items for their families. Shelly Sir is the food shelf’s director and she said the support from the Westonka community is vital to being able to provide healthy, delicious options to people experiencing economic hardships.

“The community supports us so much,” Sir said. “Even our tables and cases out front were donated. It makes all of this possible.”

It’s been two years since the Westonka Food Shelf started making a concerted effort to get healthy foods on the tables of people who couldn’t otherwise afford it and it’s now being recognized as a SuperShelf by local food banks, Health Partners and the University of Minnesota extension program.

“We were invited to be a part of this SuperShelf initiative and it was great because it was everything we’re already doing, but now these groups are able to help us do even more,” Board Member Michelle Repp said.

One new program Repp and Sir are hoping sticks around is a cooking class that was held at the food shelf a few weeks ago. The program is called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education, or SNAP-ed, and was hosted by Andrew Doherty. The idea behind the program is that food shelf patrons can come in and take a cooking class that focuses on nutrition and how to stretch their food dollars.

This time around, Sir estimated they had about eight participants, but she’s hoping that if they were able to do it again, they’d bring in a full house.

“Everyone that came out loved it,” she said. “We had a little mix up with the date, but we’re hoping people will tell their neighbors and we’ll get a better turn out if we do it again.”

The food shelf is also working on providing options and tips on cooking balanced meals for its patrons with a special section inside the market area with recipes and ingredients laid out. This month’s meal is meatloaf. There are recipe cards with tips for switching out ingredients to fit individual preferences and fridge and freezer cases set up with all of the necessary ingredients inside.

Repp said the new facility, paired with the new emphasis on nutritional meals and balanced diets, is having an effect on patrons.

“I think everything about the new space lends itself to dignity,” she said. “Many people who are economically disadvantaged also have to deal with chronic disease, so it’s important to us to get them the healthiest food possible.”

Six days a week, the Westonka Food Shelf gets food rescue donations from Lunds and Byerlys and Jubilee Foods, as well as regular donations from Gale Woods Farm in Minnetrista. Repp said those organizations have been invaluable to getting food shelf patrons the fresh, healthy food they deserve.

The Westonka Food Shelf is always looking for donations and volunteers to help serve the roughly 160 individuals that rely on the food shelf for their meals. Repp said they are able to accept donations of all kinds, including extra vegetables grown in home gardens. For more information on the Westonka Food Shelf and to find ways to donate, visit http://westonkafoodshelf.wixsite.com/westonkafoodshelf