A Year Later: Helping Hands Food Shelf

Recently, FFEN staff and volunteers had the opportunity to reconnect with leaders at the Helping Hands Food Shelf in Mahnomen, MN to reflect on our work together a year ago and review the impacts of sourcing and distributions changes that FFEN helped support.

The shift to a client choice model (now adapted due to COVID) and ordering changes had the following impact for the organization and the community:

  • Helping Hands Food Shelf was able to double the amount of food distributed to each family while maintaining the same budget.

  • The food distributed to each family included more fresh produce and dairy - highly, requested items by their clients.

Read on to learn more about this Food Shelf's story:

Helping Hands first connected with FFEN for help getting a new freezer. But after an initial conversation and site visit, the two organizations decided to explore a transition to a client choice model. Helping Hands was excited about the change but hesitant about the undertaking.

FFEN volunteers, Carolyn and Sue, stepped in to assist Helping Hands every step of the way. They outlined layout design options that incorporated a new freezer purchased with FFEN grant money. They made sure Helping Hands volunteers could complete a client choice model transition as seamlessly as possible while providing the least amount of disruption to their services.

Volunteers began the transition in September 2019 and were up and running a client choice model by October 2019. “We needed somebody from outside the food shelf to help move in this direction [of client choice.] We were so excited when [FFEN] partnered with us to help us move in that direction.” says Angie Kent, Helping Hands Board Member.

With the switch, now clients receive double the pounds of food, there are more dairy and fresh produce options, and they get to choose what items make sense for their family.

In addition to switching their food shelf model, Helping Hands went through a Food Sourcing Analysis with FFEN that helped uncover gaps in how they secure food. The organizations addressed inefficient purchasing methods so that Helping Hands could purchase more food for less money. “We’re not wasting money in areas anymore,” says Angie Kent. Now Helping Hands has been able to double the pounds of food that they distribute while maintaining the same budget.

And with their new freezer, they have safe and efficient food storage for this increased inventory.

Like most food shelves, Helping Hands has transitioned to a pre-packed curbside model during the COVID-19 pandemic. They plan to introduce more choices for clients with this model while they are unable to physically enter the food shelf.