This last summer, FFEN volunteers met with the staff of Helping Hands to discuss a possible collaboration--with both parties working to determine what that partnership would look like and what kinds of resources it would require. At the time of that initial meeting, the Mahnomen, Minnesota food shelf was serving between 75 to 90 families per month, using a “pre-pack” distribution model (if you’d like to learn more about the different “models” used by food shelves, check out our Food Shelf or Food Bank breakdown HERE). These packages--organized into small,
medium and large sizes--would provide different amounts of the same shelf-stable items to
different families depending on their size. By and large, items were supplied by the North
Country Food Bank, which services a number of food shelves in the area from its Crookston facilities.
Volunteers from both organizations quickly realized that transitioning from a pre-pack model toward a more grocery-store style “client choice” setup could potentially improve user’s experience and provide a compelling basis for procuring an important grant from the Open Your Heart organization. With FFEN’s assistance, Helping Hands applied for and were awarded the OYH grant to help fund the change. During a September follow-up, volunteers and staff discussed the results of a Food Sourcing Analysis FFEN had performed and continued working toward client-choice. They measured the facilities and created a preliminary design for how the new system would work in the space, incorporating a brand new refrigerator and shelving in the process. FFEN volunteers used their experience helping other food shelves make similar transitions and suggested a number of best practices for the change. By the end of October, the new client-choice version of Helping Hands opened its doors to shoppers. The new refrigerator had been stocked by FFEN with an assortment of eggs, milk, and rescue produce for the occasion and the first clients to use the new system made their way through displays of apples, lemons, onions and carrots. "I'm so glad we had clients in this afternoon and for the volunteers to see first hand the positive impact the choice model has for these families." Said Angela Kent of Helping Hands. When a FFEN volunteer asked one client how they liked it, they replied “That was awesome!” In the weeks ahead, FFEN will continue to work with Helping Hands, helping to cement their relationships with suppliers and shift to local sourcing and food rescue whenever possible. Keep an eye on our page in the weeks to come, as we continue to document the results of this partnership, and hear more from the folks at Helping Hands!