Guests at the Christian Cupboard Emergency Food Shelf politely stepped around shopping carts, shelves of food, volunteers and one another as they browsed the inventory of groceries last week.
Each year, about 6,300 people in need filter through a crowded, 1,500-square-foot space in the basement of Woodbury Lutheran Church once a month to load up on a variety of foods, hygiene and baby products, and household items such as toilet paper.
The organization's service area, which covers Woodbury, Oakdale, Landfall and Maplewood, is home to about 15,000 people who need some form of food assistance.
The need, said Christian Cupboard Executive Director Greig Metzger, has outgrown the capacities of the space.
"If all of those people who wanted or needed assistance came to our doors today, there's no room," Metzger said. "There's no room from a physical space perspective."
Christian Cupboard staff last week broke ground on a new facility slated to open near Guardian Angels Church in Oakdale by the end of the year.
Metzger said the 6,000-square-foot building will offer a more customer-friendly environment that better reflects the organization's mission: addressing hunger with dignity and respect.
"The space is more open, it will definitely be brighter," he said. "It will just be more open and respectful of the whole process."
The new facility also will allow the organization to expand its services and inventory.
Christian Cupboard partners with local grocery stores as part of a "food rescue" program in which the organization collects food that is approaching the end of its shelf life, but not necessarily the consumption expiration date.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that food waste accounts for 30 to 40 percent of America's food supply, which totaled about 133 billion pounds and $161 billion worth of food across the country in 2010.
More refrigerator and freezer space at the new building means customers will have access to more frozen fruits, vegetables and proteins.
The current location in the church limits shoppers to about 12 hours per week. Operating out of its own building, however, Christian Cupboard can triple its hours.
Metzger estimates this will increase the number of people they're able to serve by about 25 percent.
"It's just a matter for many of our customers, their schedules are pretty restricted in terms of where they could be," he said. "The idea would be to be open more hours or probably to have time where somebody can stop by and use our services."
Along with broadening its reach of customers, the larger space will allow for more volunteer opportunities, particularly for groups.
Christian Cupboard is still accepting donations for Raise the Roof, a capital campaign to help fund the new building. Donations can be made online at www.ccefs.org/raise-roof-info.
Along with the organization's enhanced services the new building will facilitate, Metzger said Christian Cupboard will continue raising awareness of hunger and food access issues throughout the community.
"Unfortunately, it's an issue and a challenge that's not necessarily unique to urban areas," he said. "Suburban hunger and poverty is a growing issue and, despite improving economies, continues to be a challenge and a concern that we are trying to address."