Demand is up, donations are down one year after church closure
After four decades of quietly feeding the hungry in the heart of Uptown, Joyce Uptown Food Shelf is bracing itself for a huge spike in demand for its services as Food Stamp benefit cuts take effect, adding to a turbulent year for the organization.
When Joyce Church closed in December 2012 due to dwindling membership and lack of parking, a rumor circulated that the food shelf was also closing.
“Not so,” says Becky Spence, director of the Joyce Uptown Food Shelf, which relocated to 3041 Fremont Ave. South after the church closed. “We’re still here but in critical need of donations for the clients we serve.”
Relying heavily on community support, the food shelf last year served 266,900 pounds of food to 13,000 individuals, ranging from families to individuals of all ages and many cultures, in chronic need or temporary economic distress. The food shelf’s service area is Southwest Minneapolis, bounded by 25th Street and 62/Crosstown, France and Lyndale Avenues, and including the Chain of Lakes.
“The community’s largely upscale curb appeal can be misleading,” says Spence, the sole person on staff. “You may be comfortable living in this neighborhood, but you don’t know if your neighbor is going to the food shelf.” The only requirement for using the food shelf is a picture ID and proof of an address within the service area.
Sadly, the stigma of need keeps people silent. Yet with Food Stamp benefit reductions now in effect, Spence is bracing for a big jump in demand for the food shelf’s services, among both the unemployed and the underemployed.
More than half of adult food shelf clients are employed, says Spence. “They’re just not making enough.”
Clients are provided with a three-day supply of nutritionally balanced food once a month, based on the number in their household. In addition, clients are also interviewed to discern if cultural, dietary or other factors may be relevant to their needs. The food shelf also supplies nonfood items including soap, shampoo, laundry soap, paper towels, tooth brushes and toilet paper.
To address the need for people who work during the day, the Uptown Rotary staffs the food shelf one evening a week. Rotary member Chris Dokken has been volunteering at the food shelf for over 17 years, and appreciates the tangible nature of the work.
“It’s something that I can do that I really know helps someone,” said Dokken. “It’s not just writing a check. I meet the people and get a glimpse into their lives. They are not the losers and dead beats as society tries to paint them. Some of them live very heroic lives and it’s important for me to be reminded of that.”
Dokken also brings her teenage son to work at the food shelf.
“I want him to know that there are people out there suffering and they need help. He needs to understand that the purpose of his life is not just contained in the little safe bubble we’ve created for him to grow up in; that he matters and can personally make a difference.”
The food shelf, more than ever, is in need of support.
“We are hopeful the community will donate money, time, resources or skills,” says Spence. “Every little bit will help us continue to serve those who need help the most.”
About Joyce Uptown Food Shelf Inc.
Joyce Uptown Food Shelf, Inc. today is an outreach program of Lake Harriet United Methodist Church. Food comes from four major sources: donations of food from individuals, churches, organizations and food drives; Emergency Foodshelf Network -- a coalition of 26 Hennepin County food shelves which purchase from food suppliers at a discounted rate; Second Harvest Heartland Food Bank, which receives food from major corporations and delivers to Joyce Uptown Food Shelf for a minimal maintenance fee; and U.S. government surplus commodities. Financial donations are used to purchase food at a deep discount.
Approximately a dozen area churches participate in periodic food drives to stock the shelves. Area businesses including Wedge Co-op, Whole Foods and Linden Hills Co-op provide weekly shipments of fresh produce. Other businesses, organizations and individuals provide cash, food and non-food items and volunteer support.
The Joyce Uptown Food Shelf is open Monday-Friday from 1:00 p.m.-3:45 p.m. The Uptown Rotary staffs the food shelf on Thursday evenings from 5:00 p.m.-6:45 p.m. Those interested in donating or volunteering are asked to call 612-825-4431.