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Food shelf focus groups show need in rural Minnesota

Food shelf connection with Extension is key

University of Minnesota Extension SNAP-Ed educators support food shelves’ efforts to provide healthy, safe and culturally relevant food to clients. Through a series of five focus groups with 37 Minnesota food shelf directors, volunteers, staff, and clients, revealed food shelf needs and dreams for the future.

The most glaring gap identified was the need for younger volunteers, amplified due to COVID-19 when the health and safety of older volunteers is critical. Transportation was also a barrier for clients to get to the food shelf, especially during winter months.

Offering food shelf clients choice in the foods they select has made a positive impact on client service. Clients feel more comfortable and more respected when they can choose their own food. And, it hasn’t increased costs for the food shelf. One person stated, “...that goes back to having that choice. When you come here now you're not taking things that you're not going to use, so that food isn't wasted. Makes a difference.” 

Food shelves appreciate support from SNAP-Ed educators in their communities. One person talked about SNAP-Ed educator, Dianne Davis Kenning, “She comes to work, but you would never know that to Dianne, it's not a job — it's her passion.” Food shelves value their partnerships with Extension, and food shelves have been transformed through their involvement in Extension programs Nudging to Health and SuperShelf .

Food shelves provide healthier options and a better overall experience when they connect with community partners and build relationships with Extension educators. Results of collaborations lead to stores, farmers and home gardeners donating produce, while food banks provide more fresh produce options to the food shelves. 

“Using the food shelf myself, now I have gas money, extra gas money for during the winter, we are eating better than we did before because we have the healthier choices,” said one of the focus group members.

For more information about food shelf support check out Building Better Food Shelves

Contact Kelly Kunkel for more information, kunke003@umn.edu or (507) 381-3861; Laura Bohen, bohe0006@umn.edu; Dianne Davis Kenning, davis063@umn.edu


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