“This is a very generous community. Across the board our donations are way up, monetary, food and clothes. A year ago we had no meat, no eggs and no milk. We have been able to change that. We know we can’t do this alone and our community has said, “we don’t want you to, we want to help.”
That was Heidi Herron Development Director for Five Loaves Food Shelf and the newly renamed, Two Fish Thrift Store, in New Richmond acknowledging the community support she and her staff have received since she started with the organization a little over a year ago. In April of 2014 a grant from the Otto Bremer Foundation made it possible for the food shelf to hire its first staff, Herron and Food Shelf Director Jacquie Graham.
“We feel so honored to be able add our skill sets to something that has been working so well for so long. I am in charge of funding our four programs (Food Shelf, Thrift Store, Happy Kids Backpack Program, Community Outreach Meal for Everyone) and looking at the big picture, figuring out how to maintain our organization going forward. Jacquie is in charge of all the ordering, coordinating the volunteers and making sure there is food on the shelves. Michelle Henke is our full-time thrift store manager,” explained Herron.
Herron and Graham have made a positive impact on food shelf operations.
“First we look at what we are receiving in donations from food drives and other donations plus whatever food we are rescuing. Then Jacquie orders whatever else we need on a weekly basis. A year ago before we were hired, that amounted to about $1,000 a month worth of purchases. Through grant writing and fundraising we’ve been able to increase that amount to $2,000 a month that we can spend on food for our clients. With that money we were able to feed 1,025 new clients in 2014,” said Herron.
Herron and her staff are about to implement another significant change at the food shelf. Made possible by a grant from the Hugh J Andersen Foundation, the pantry will be the first such organization in Wisconsin to start using Pantry Saver software. Pantry Saver is a comprehensive program that increases efficiency of pantry operations from donation intake and volunteers to servicing clients and managing data.
“We’ll be able to streamline our system. Instead of it taking up to an hour for a client to get through, it will speed up that process. When food donations come through the door, we will be able to enter the details of the donation into the system on the spot enabling us to get the donor a receipt much more quickly and making it easier for us to keep track of our inventory. We’ll be able to target what needs to be purchased. Using this software should free up staff resources allowing us to concentrate on feeding the hungry,” said Herron.
Another advantage to using Pantry Saver is that the system compiles statistics as it is being used.
“Some of the things the new software will help us look at more easily and accurately are things like how many clients came in on Monday night, what were the family sizes, how many kids under 10 years, how many seniors and how does that change seasonally,” added Herron.
That kind of data will enable Herron to produce specific reports for potential funders and other community interests. The grant designated for capacity building enabled the food shelf to purchase the software without taking away from any monies that could be used to purchase food.
The food shelf could soon be benefiting from a new Healthier Together program called Better Shelf, Better Health funded by Stillwater Hospital, Hudson Hospital, Westfield’s Hospital and Allina Health if the program is approved by the food shelf board later this month.
“This group would revamp how we display food in our pantry space to help make our store look and operate more like a regular grocery store. They would reorganize the physical layout to highlight produce and healthy foods to encourage healthier choices,” said Herron.
Herron is proud of her staff and what they have accomplished over the past year particularly with regard to feeding homebound seniors and local food rescue.
“We collaborate with the folks at the ARDC who run the Meals on Wheels program delivering groceries to homebound seniors. We learned that homebound seniors did not receive meals on Friday, Saturday or Sunday leaving them without meals for twelve days each month. Five Loaves was providing one bag of groceries each month to bridge those 12 days. We set a goal to double our deliveries to two bags each month and we’ve done that in this past year. Thanks to a grant we received through the New Richmond Area Community Foundation we were able to fund the extra deliveries. We developed a relationship with volunteers in town and specifically the high school to physically pack and deliver the extra groceries,” said Herron.
Being able to purchase rescued food from Second Harvest Heartland has been critical to the success of the food shelf.
“Every dollar donated enables us to purchase seven dollars worth of food. Second Harvest Heartland's ability to rescue to food food from all over and then resell it to us is one of our most crucial partnerships,” said Herron.
Organizing a local food rescue program has helped the pantry to supplement its long standing relationship with Second Harvest Heartland.
“We have established four weekly food rescue relationships in our community with Family Fresh, Walmart, Super American and Kwik Trip. We work with volunteers and service organizations to pick up from these partners weekly and deliver that food here to the food shelf,” explained Herron.
Looking ahead Herron hopes to establish an emergency fund at Five Loaves.
“A year ago, a gentleman came in with two small children, a toddler and a baby. His ex-wife had been sentenced to jail and he had been awarded the children that afternoon. He came through our doors with nothing, no food, no diapers, no formula. We were pretty low at that point. It was heart breaking. I thought, that can’t happen again,” recounted Herron. “This year one of our goals is to develop an emergency fund for food, supplies and money. We need the ability to have some basic necessities on hand at all times.”
Another of Heron’s goals is to clean up the organization’s infrastructure to increase efficiency and insure they are able to maintain their current level of service.
“We have been working really hard to make sure we honor our mission to feed people while at the same time increasing our ability to do that by employing technological advances. We also realize, ours is the epitome of a community food shelf. From Kiwanis, Rotary, Knights of Columbus and 4H, to schools, churches and veterans organizations pretty much every organization in the community has somehow helped Five Loaves. There’s no way we could do this without all of our more than 180 plus volunteers. They are the backbone of what we do here,” said Herron.
Herron anticipates the need to feed families will grow as the community grows.
“We’ve had a big week with wall to wall people. Right now we have a large number of seasonal clients and we are anticipating the Food Share Program will be cut once again so we expect to see even more clients. As our community continues to grow so will our need to feed people who are hungry. Even without the bridge we are estimating a very conservative 1-2 percent population growth rate per year over the next decade,” said Herron.
Herron also recognizes that inherent in that growth lies an opportunity. As people with means consider making New Richmond their home, they will be asking, does this community take care of itself, all of its citizens. What kind of community is this at heart?
“Our challenge is figuring out how to reach out to those new folks in the community that want to give back and want to be a part of something like this,” said Herron.
“Funding our programs is our biggest need. Approximately 650-700 individuals receive food assistance from our food shelf every month including homebound seniors and hundreds of children. Cash donations are appreciated because they can be applied to whatever need has priority,” explained Herron.
Currently the food shelf is looking for five more volunteers, and specifically a volunteer/outreach coordinator. They are also need of clerical and bookkeeping support and IT help. The food shelf is also strongly considering extending its very successful Happy Kids Backpack Program to cover an additional six weeks during the summer to bridge summer school sessions. To do so they need a volunteer willing to commit 10 hours a week to order and coordinate all logistics, five additional volunteers to commit one hour a week to fill the backpacks and an additional $4,500 in funding to pay for the food.
Maybe one of the most important long-term goals Herron, her staff, and board accomplished this past year was the creation of a strategic plan.
“With help from the New Richmond Area Community Foundation, our organization adopted a strategic plan for the first time in January,“ said Herron.
The plan is a living document designed to be revisited periodically to evaluate the organization’s progress. The plan designates short and long term goals along with strategies and timelines to accomplish those goals. A strategic plan is also an important tool when it comes to helping convince potential funders to support an organization like Five Loaves.
Herron recognizes one of the keys to bolstering the stability of the food shelf will be to increase the success of its sister operation, the thrift store.
“We know we cannot continue to hold our hand out to grantors. That cannot continue to be the primary way we are funded. That’s why a program like the thrift store is so important to helping us stand on our own,” said Herron.
To that end, Two Fish Thrift Store will be roughly doubling its capacity when it moves into its new location at 118 Homestead Drive this August.
For more information about the food shelf or to donate visit 5loavesfoodandclothing.org.