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Food shelf expansion consists of more mobile food shelves, proposed new building

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There are 13,000 Woodbury area residents who are hungry, and remarkably, the Christian Cupboard Emergency Food Shelf has been able to reach many of them.

Despite running a relatively small food shelf operation with limited hours in the basement of a local church, CCEFS is expanding at a rapid pace.

On Friday, the organization announced a $750,000 fundraising effort aimed at building a new, permanent food shelf on the grounds of Guardian Angels Catholic Church in Oakdale, near Woodbury.

"The moment, the aha, is more of a math calculation," food shelf director Greig Metzger said. "Woodbury Lutheran has been super supportive, but the reality is there's no more space and no more hours to be open."

There's room for about 10 percent growth at the current food shelf, where 6,300 people are annually served, Metzger said. Another 600 people are reached through various CCEFS programs.

Proposed construction is the second major step in the strategic planning process for CCEFS. The other key initiative is to take the show on the road.

With the help of a grant, in spring 2015, CCEFS started its first mobile food shelf, a pop-up food shelf to which all residents of Oak Terrace Apartments in Oakdale were invited. Volunteer Sue Gillman said that the food shelf has a participation rate among apartment residents of about 85 percent.

CCEFS quickly added two other sites for pop-up food shelves — Cobble Hill Apartments in Woodbury and Cottage Homesteads of Aspen in Oakdale.

In addition to the 6,900 people already served by the food shelf, the three mobile food shelves are expected to annually serve 1,000 people, most of whom had never received CCEFS's services. That's an additional 83 households a month.

Senior citizens are the first focus of the pop-up program.

"We can help many of them cut their grocery bill in half," Metzger said. "They are all on fixed incomes. There's nothing fixed expense-wise."

Volunteers hold one-hour events there, sandwiched by 20 minutes of set-up and 20 minutes of takedown, Gillman said. It's not a pre-packed meal, like some other services, she added. "This way, people take what they use."

After six months, the mostly senior population at the sites for mobile food shelf events "just plan on it," Gillman said.

"When we started, people said, 'Well, I don't know any of my neighbors,'" volunteer Cindy Klatt said. "Now people look forward to it and they make it a social event."

People with mobility issues are able to use the pop-up food shelf.

CCEFS's number of clients increased by double-digit percentage points in 2014 and 2015, prompting a new emphasis on expansion and materializing with the advent of mobile food shelf and discussion of a new building. In 2016, the number of clients has plateaued, possibly due to a stable-for-now economy, Metzger said.

The food shelf is based at Woodbury Lutheran Church, where dry goods are stored. The 3M Co. donates dry goods storage at a site in St. Paul, and CCEFS has commercial refrigerators and freezers at Guardian Angels.

"It's a little bit of a logistics nightmare," Metzger said of trucking food from site to site.

Centralizing is the plan to smoothe out the operations, but spreading out to more pop-up food shelf sites will help CCEFS serve more people in need.

To expand the mobile food shelf program, more volunteers are needed.

"Many hands make light work," Metzger said.

On Thursday, Jerry's Foods provided Thanksgiving meals for Oak Terrace residents.

Businesses are invited to follow the lead of Hilton Garden Inn, which pledged to send employees to staff a pop-up food shelf during each quarter of 2017.

Other groups and individuals can get involved too, by putting their name on a list of interested volunteers. Just fill out the SignUpGenius form that comes via email, Klatt said. "Even if they volunteer quarterly, that'd be great. We just need to add a little more depth to our bench."

CCEFS serves Woodbury, Oakdale, south Maplewood and Landfall. To find out more about services offered by Christian Cupboard Emergency Food Shelf, or about how to donate or volunteer for the pop-up program, call 651-233-1296, or visit ccefs.org.

To make a donation to the new building project, click the Donate button at ccefs.org, and write a note in PayPal specifying that the money given is meant to be spent on the construction.

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