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Woodbury's Christian Cupboard marks 30 years in community

Christian Cupboard Emergency Food Shelf will celebrate its 30th anniversary on Nov. 15 at Guardian Angels Catholic Church. The food shelf, housed at Woodbury Lutheran Church, was created through a partnership of seven area churches. (Staff photo by Amber Kispert-Smith)

It was 1983 and more and more people were in need of a place to turn to during difficult situations.

“Unfortunately, food and security is a continuing problem in our country, in our state and the town in which we live,” said Greig Metzger, board president for the Christian Cupboard Emergency Food Shelf. “There are a lot of people who have difficulty making ends meet.”

Because of that growing need in the community, a group of seven Woodbury area churches, including Woodbury Lutheran Church where the food shelf is housed, decided to start a nonprofit food shelf.

With the help of Dick and Sharon Wolff, the food shelf’s founders, Christian Cupboard has become an essential part of the community, Metzger said.

“The presence of the food shelf allows people to be supported with dignity,” he said, “while helping lift the burden of having to make some of those hard decisions.”

Christian Cupboard will celebrate its 30th anniversary on Nov. 15.

“In an ideal world the food shelf wouldn’t be successful,” Metzger said, “But, it’s really all about recognizing the folks that had the vision and the persistence to go about creating the operation.”

A changing cupboard

On average, Christian Cupboard provides meals for about 400-425 families per month.

In 2012, Christian Cupboard provided a total of 535,000 pounds of food to families in need.

Christian Cupboard primarily serves the communities of Woodbury, Oakdale, Landfall and south Maplewood.

“People who are higher educated aren’t working because of the outsourcing and the layoffs,” said Kristin Kinney, executive director of Christian Cupboard. “It’s creating hardship for a new tier of our economy – we are reaching an audience that maybe hadn’t been reached before.”

Even though Christian Cupboard has maintained the same vision over the years – helping those in need – the food shelf has undergone a number of changes over time, most notably the past several years.

The first big change came late last year when Dick Wolff resigned his position as executive director and Kinney took the reins.

Wolff died in January 2013.

Following Kinney’s hire, Christian Cupboard underwent another significant change by moving to a “customer choice” model.

Previously, the food shelf distributed four pre-packaged grocery bags to customers, but under the new model, customers are able to pick which foods they want to take home with them.

“It’s a lot like shopping,” Metzger said. “They’ll take a look at things and see what fits.”

Both Metzger and Kinney said the customer choice model has been well received since it better addresses the changing health and food needs of the community.

“There’s a continuing growth in diversity in the world in which we live,” Metzger said.

Additionally, the customer choice model has helped save some food since customers aren’t taking items that they won’t eat, Kinney said.

Another big change, which just happened recently, is that Christian Cupboard has expanded its operating hours.

Previously, the food shelf was only open every Friday morning and one evening each month.

Now, the food shelf will be open Mondays from noon to 4 p.m., Thursdays from 5-7 p.m. and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

“With the choice model it takes a little bit more time to effectively get a customer in and out,” Metzger said.

“We know we wanted to be able to accommodate the needs of working families,” Kinney said.

Celebrating the volunteers

During the anniversary celebration on Nov. 15, Metzger and Kinney said the main focus of the event will be celebrating those who have helped make Christian Cupboard what it is today.

“We wouldn’t have been able to do without the support of our broad group of volunteers,” Metzger said.

Kinney agreed, saying “the volunteers are so dedicated, they are so conscientious and caring and they work so hard – they really have risen to the occasion.”

Christian Cupboard has about 45 regular volunteers, but the number is always changing, said volunteer coordinator Mary Westberg.

Westberg, of Woodbury, first started volunteering at Christian Cupboard in April of last year because she was looking for something to fill her time.

“I was between jobs and I wanted to give back,” she said. “I’m really interested in food and helping out with food needs, so Christian Cupboard was a perfect fit.”

Westberg said volunteering has been a rewarding experience.

“You hear so many touching stories,” she said, “that you begin to actually appreciate what you have when you see people going through these struggles.”

Future vision

Kinney and Metzger said they hope Christian Cupboard can continue to help families over the next 30 years.

Metzger said he could see the next 30 years bringing in healthier food options, and less processed food, while addressing a person’s needs from a holistic perspective.

Kinney said she would like Christian Cupboard to be a one-stop-shop for families to get their food, maybe talk with a health specialist, a housing specialist or even an employment specialist.

“It would be nice to be a real comfortable place, where people can come and get a lot of their other needs met,” she said. “It’s hard to say how that will evolve, but that is my ideal vision.”

Kinney and Metzger said they are hopeful for Christian Cupboard’s future.

“What I’ve seen while I’ve been here is just an outpouring from the community to the families in need,” Kinney said. “People are not just willing to give of their fiscal donations, but they are very willing to give of their time and extend themselves out to the people that need it.

“It’s a very exciting time to be here.”

Christian Cupboard celebrates its 30th anniversary on Nov. 15 at Guardian Angels Catholic Church starting at 6 p.m. The celebration will include a reception with dinner followed by a program and video celebrating Christian Cupboard’s history and volunteers.

Tickets are $75 each or $500 for a table of eight. Advance tickets can be purchased by contacting the Christian Cupboard at Net proceeds from the event will be dedicated to ongoing operations.

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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