2 New ways to feed hungry people with dignity

In 2019, one in nine households in the U.S. lacked consistent access to enough food to sustain a healthy lifestyle. That rate is worse in some communities than others, and the pandemic took a toll. But churches and nonprofits are finding new ways to fight food insecurity while building community with grace.

Research conducted by Feeding America and Cornell University in 2016 suggests that those fighting food insecurity can also provide environmental cues and subtle nudges that encourage healthy eating. These can ultimately lead to dramatic positive effects on the health of the communities they serve.

Read on to see how a church and a grocery store are already taking these steps.

Good Grocer, Minneapolis

Serving in a dimly lit food pantry one day, Kurt Vickman thought, “What would it be like to create a space and a place where it’s light, designed well, clean, and dignified?” People wouldn’t be clients. Somehow, they could be contributors too.

The idea of Good Grocer was born in South Minneapolis. Though it looked like a typical high-end grocery store, it was different. Prices were lower because the staff was nearly all volunteer. And those who volunteered got a 25 percent discount on their groceries.

It provided fresh produce and other healthy foods in an area where people weren’t getting a lot of that. One Minneapolis news station called it “an oasis in the middle of a food desert.”

But less than three years after it opened, Vickman learned the building would be demolished as part of an interstate reconstruction.

Seemingly unfazed, he regrouped, and used the in-between time to innovate further. In January 2021, Good Grocer reopened just a mile and a half away, in an area of town known as “Eat Street.” The new store, almost twice the size of the original location, is powered by 400 volunteers, which means dramatically lowered costs. This allows for a new feature – a food outlet, open every Saturday to offer those suffering from food insecurity even deeper discounts (50 to 75 percent).

The values-based grocery store is also serious about loving their community. “Our store is a vehicle to bring people together. To do good through the choices we make each day. And to make the kind of connections that make life more meaningful,” they say.

Shepherd’s Heart, Geneva, Illinois

Shepherd’s Heart Care Center, run by Chapelstreet Church in Geneva, Illinois, serves 1,400 people.

When their ministry began in 1999, it was a simple food pantry closet with pre-packed bags, where families in need could get a helping hand. But the small, tucked-away space wasn’t conducive to building relationships. Years later, a new, larger location offered more visibility, and the ministry grew to serve more families. But it wasn’t long before they were again busting at the seams.

So they began to think through how they could best serve the community, not only with food, but with a job-search ministry, budgeting assistance, and legal services. They partnered with Aspen Group, a ministry-focused design/build group, to help them build a structure that reflected their priorities.

Their goal? Provide a dignified space for anyone who enters, including spaces for building relationships with the people in their community. They wanted the space to feel warm and inviting, like the atmosphere of family room.

Some highlights from the project included a new dedicated entrance that is bright and welcoming with clear signing, larger meeting areas, administrative spaces, more storage, and a distribution center.

“Our intention was to provide a dignified space for anyone who enters. That was the main goal that carried us through this project.” – Kristen Freeman, Interior Designer, Aspen Group

“A lot of food pantries use metal shelving units. When you come to our pantry, it’s beautiful and warm with these cubbies with baskets,” says Erin Wise Director of the Care Center. “And through the generosity of our community, we’re filling those baskets.”

Through this thriving ministry, staff and volunteers are building relationships with neighbors and the community, as well as sharing the gospel and modeling the love of Jesus – and they’re seeing the lives of their guests being transformed in the process. “Now that this beautiful space has been created for us to meet with families, we’re starting to see transformation happen in their lives,” Wise says.

Photos, video, and additional content for this story were provided by Good Grocer and Aspen Group. You can read more about Shepherd’s Heart Care Center’s unique addition and renovation here.

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