When I walked into ICA Food Shelf in Minnetonka, Minnesota – a food pantry partner of Second Harvest Heartland – for a visit and to film and interview one of its lead staff members, I was overwhelmed by the vibrant colors and cheerful atmosphere. The food pantry (aka food shelf) was set up to resemble a small grocery store and had an incredibly inviting look. At Feeding America, we call this kind of set up a choice pantry, as it allows the people it serves to select the food they need as you would in a grocery store.
However, even more impressive than ICA Food Shelf’s commitment to running a choice pantry and building a welcoming environment for the people it serves was the produce assortment it had available. Turnips, cauliflower, carrots, green beans, Brussel sprouts, corn, fennel, cucumbers, lettuce, celery, yellow and green peppers, sage, red skinned, baking, and sweet potatoes, strawberries, grapes, apples, honeydew melons, oranges, tomatoes and limes were arranged in attractive displays for people to select. Recipes cards could also be found within the displays to give visitors ideas on how to use the produce they select. ICA Food Shelf accesses a variety of produce items as this pantry is enabled through food safety training and oversight by Second Harvest Heartland to pick up directly from retailers on a daily basis. This agency not only has access through retail pickups to amazing produce items, but also to frozen protein, dairy items, bakery products, and an assortment of shelf-stable goods. It was amazing to see that people turning to ICA Food Shelf for help were offered a variety of fresh and healthy choices to feed their families.
Working in product sourcing for Feeding America, I know that produce can be difficult to source as a donation and challenging to handle due to its perishable nature – making it more difficult for food pantries to secure, store and distribute safely. And yet, eating at least five to seven servings of fruits and vegetables a day is recommended by the USDA, and there is a myriad of medical evidence heralding the positive health benefits of eating more produce. It is encouraging to see that food pantries within our network are making produce a priority despite the challenges that come with it, and consequently making the health of the people we serve a priority as well.
We want every person we serve – all 46.5 million – to have access to the abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables like people visiting ICA Food Shelf do. To achieve this, we will continue to source and secure produce from fields and farmers but also from produce terminals and ports, grocery stores, farmers markets and co-ops. Produce is a key priority at Feeding America, because many people facing hunger struggle to access fresh fruits and vegetables. By connecting the people we serve to healthy options we hope to not only fill their stomachs, but also give them a bright future – full of hope and health.
*Diane Letson is the director of product souring and retail partnerships at Feeding America. Learn more about our nutrition programs and how we help people we serve learn about the nutritional requirements for children and families.