North St. Paul food shelf experiences a different kind of scarcity: volunteers

Last year, the North St. Paul Area Food Shelf served more than 2,500 families, distributing over 268,000 pounds of food and more than $12,000 in gift certificates. Because the space the food shelf operates within is small, volunteers pack the food into bags before clients arrive, a process that relies heavily on volunteer power. Aundrea Kinney photos

The North St. Paul Area Food Shelf, which is run entirely by volunteers, is in trouble. Daytime volunteers have become a scarcity, and unless new volunteers step up, the food shelf may close.

Over the years, as volunteers have stepped away from their positions due to health concerns, moving out of the area or other personal conflicts, Director Linda Zick and her husband Dave have picked up the slack. Now the couple is seeking retirement from their full-time volunteer positions with the food shelf.  

“Dave and I appreciate the experience and have enjoyed the people, but it’s time for us to slow down,” Zick said.

The Zicks have attempted to retire once before, but no one was available to take over their positions, so retirement was postponed.

“The thing is that it’s better to go out this way than if all of a sudden something happens to one of us,” Zick said, explaining that their planned January 2018 retirement should allow enough time to train in new volunteers to take over.

The director position involves managing inventory, overseeing the operation, conducting some volunteer training and some shopping for items that are not donated.

Although the director position is opening up, there are several other positions that need to be filled first to ensure a smooth transition for the future director. People need not have experience in order to apply for any of the open positions.

The food shelf needs people to pick up produce and donations from local businesses one or more times a week, and others to work one or two days a week at the food shelf helping with deliveries and sorting food. Additional volunteers are also needed throughout the year when food drives are held by local organizations. Phone operators are needed to schedule appointments, and substitute volunteers are needed to step in when another volunteer needs to unexpectedly cancel.

In addition to the numerous regular volunteer positions, additional members are needed for the food shelf board, which makes decisions about how the food shelf operates. One open board position is the treasurer, so the best situation would involve someone who has experience handling financial books. 

Board members meet four times a year, and the board positions are the only ones that need not be daytime positions.

Although the food shelf is short staffed, Zick said the volunteers they do have are assets.

“We have super volunteers, just wonderful. That’s the only thing we’re really going to miss,” Zick said.


History of the food shelf

Crist Langelett, his late wife Joanne, and a small group of community members founded the North St. Paul Area Food Shelf in 1980. Joanne was the food shelf’s first director and stayed in the position for 16 years until her death. Langelett was the president of the food shelf until 1998.

In Langelett’s memoir titled “My Journey,” he describes the food shelf as a “small and slow operation,” in the early days, though it eventually grew to service Oakdale and Maplewood in addition to North St. Paul.

After a year of other volunteer work for the food shelf, Zick took the director position. She has been director for about 15 years, though at the time she anticipated only volunteering as director for about three years because she and Dave were taking care of grandchildren.

Due to the difficulty servicing such a large area, the food shelf stopped servicing Maplewood in June 2012. Last year, the North St. Paul Area Food Shelf served over 2,500 families and distributed over 268,000 pounds of food and over $12,000 in gift certificates.


The problem

Currently, the North St. Paul Area Food Shelf is open four days a week and serves 14 people each day. Because the space the food shelf operates within is small, volunteers pack the food into bags before the clients arrive, a process which relies heavily on volunteer power.

Zick recognized that it is difficult to get volunteers for the food shelf partially because the volunteer shifts are scheduled during the day while many people are at work. She noted that even the churches that volunteer for the food shelf are experiencing this difficulty. 

Recently, Zick met with the Christian Cupboard Emergency Food Shelf and Second Harvest Heartland regarding the lack of volunteers at the North St. Paul Area Food Shelf. 

CCEFS, which services Woodbury, Oakdale, Landfall and parts of south Maplewood, will be moving from Woodbury to Oakdale in January 2018. Because of this transition to a larger facility, Zick said CCEFS may be able to take on some of the North St. Paul Area Food Shelf’s Oakdale clients. 

She added that if CCEFS expands its presence in Oakdale, it may take some of the pressure off the North St. Paul Food Shelf.

“My main thing is that we need help,” Zick said. “We hate to close.”

For more information or to volunteer, contact Ron Czerepak, volunteer coordinator, at or call the North St. Paul Area Food Shelf at 651-770-1309. The food shelf is located at 2538 Seppala Blvd.


Aundrea Kinney can be reached at 651-748-7822 or

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