Merrick Community Services: Leveraging FoodShare Month for Lifelong Impact


Volunteers stocking the shelves at Merrick’s food shelf at Woodland Hills with many items typically not found at other food shelves, such as fresh fruit and vegetables, yogurt and items for people with special dietary needs.

Merrick Community Services
965 Payne Ave, Ste. 300
St Paul, MN 55130
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For those who don’t work in the food shelf world, 15 tons of food – or 30,000 pounds – sounds like an enormous amount of food.

At Merrick Community Services’ Merrick Food Shelf at Woodland Hills, that only represents one month of food donations. And, that doesn’t even meet the demand from families who suffer through food insecurities.

“Last year, we served 500 families per month at the food shelf, and this year we have been averaging between 600 and 650,” said Courteney Roessler, food shelf coordinator at Woodland Hills.

For more than a century, Merrick has been fulfilling its mission to improve the lives of Saint Paul’s East Side residents through programs that address some of the more basic needs. Since its inception, the local nonprofit has worked tirelessly to help community members find a path out of poverty, whether through job training programs, independent living support for seniors, or case management support for struggling families.

And, with the food shelf, Merrick not only is providing food for hungry families on the East Side and in Maplewood, but it is helping to ensure children go to school with a nourished body ready to learn and adults go to work ready to produce and contribute.

“People look at Merrick and see a non-profit, social service organization doing needed charitable work,” says Dan Rodriguez, executive director of Merrick Community Services. “More than providing charity, we are helping to build capacity – an individual’s capacity to move themselves up the economic ladder, and the East Side’s capacity to meet the needs of a diverse and challenged population.”

The food shelf at Woodland Hills is part of that strategy. Unlike many food pantries that generally are able to only provide a variety of processed canned and boxed foods, Merrick Food Shelf operates a “Clients’ Choice” system, which closely resembles a typical shopping experience at the local grocery store. Customers pick out the items they want in certain categories and leave with fresh fruits and vegetables, bread, eggs, milk, meat and poultry, and other items in addition to the dried goods found at most food shelves.

Merrick also makes an effort to stock food items that appeal to people of different ethnic backgrounds and serve those who have certain dietary restrictions, reflecting the community it serves.

“It’s an approach that treats people with dignity, giving those who need the food shelf an experience that feels more like their regular shopping routine,” Rodriguez said. “It also cuts down on wasted product and is more efficient use of time for both the customer and staff. It’s a win-win.”

For more information about Merrick’s Food Shelf, please contact Courteney Roessler at croessler@merrickcs.org or by calling 651-287-2088.

Serving Seniors

Merrick’s food capacity-building programming doesn’t stop at the doors of its food shelves, nor is it limited to just providing good.

Merrick’s Senior Services Program provides services that allow older clients on the East Side to remain independent and living in their homes as long as possible.

“Seniors are happiest at home,” said Jennifer Anton, Senior Services Coordinator. “If we can keep them in the community, it’s better for the community as a whole.”

Merrick delivers hot meals to residents age 60 and older, and people of all ages who are certified disabled, through its Meals on Wheels program. More than 40,000 meals are delivered annually to senior on the East Side, five days a week. The Brown Bag program also helps seniors by providing a bag of food containing 10 to 12 items distributed twice a month at two East Side locations.

Additionally, Merrick’s Chore Services program helps seniors with housekeeping, yard work, snow removal, and minor home repairs, provided on a sliding fee scale. It’s Elderly Waiver program funds home and community-based services for seniors who are eligible for Medical Assistance and want to stay at home, while the Senior LinkAge Line provides a free telephone information and assistance services that links older adults to other community services.

For more information about Merrick’s Senior Services, please contact Jennifer Anton at janton@merrickcs.org or by calling 651-771-6327.

A Community Effort

“Obviously, as a non-profit, this is nothing we could do alone,” Anton said. “Delivering the meals to seniors at home, staffing the offices to respond to requests, and purchasing the food to stock our food shelves, this takes money, it takes donations, and, most of all, it takes people power.”

And, just as the traditional retail season can ebb and flow, grabbing people’s attention, so does the charitable season. However, the difference, Rodriguez said, is that the need is always constant.

“Hunger doesn’t wait for an end-of-the-year campaign,” Rodriguez said. “The on-going support with get throughout the year allows us to manage our demand much better and meet the ever-growing needs of families living in more complex, less forgiving economy.

“What encourages me, though, are the stories you hear from volunteers and supporters. While we are not always top-of-mind for people who have many demands in their lives, when they come and distribute food, and meet the seniors, and see how their dollars are working, there is a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment that crosses their face. It’s uplifting,” he said.

Merrick Community Services is part of the March is Minnesota FoodShare Month initiative. People who want to donate money that allows Merrick to purchase food at discounted rates can go online at www.merrickcs.org or send a check to Merrick Community Services, Poverty Relief, 965 Payne Ave., Ste 300, Saint Paul, MN  55130. Merrick also accepts food donations at Woodland Hills, 1740 Van Dyke St., Saint Paul.

Volunteers put the face to Merrick, though, and are always welcome. Volunteer opportunities are available for both Merrick’s food shelves and Meals on Wheels programs. Call 651-771-9339 or email Angela Rankin at arankin@merrickcs.org for more information.

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