Crow Wing food shelves put focus on healthier options, client choice
It's no longer business as usual at food shelves in Crow Wing County.
Instead of getting a box of preselected food, clients can now choose food as if they were shopping at a grocery store, and healthier foods are getting to people in need.
Crow Wing Energized, a community partner of Crow Wing County Community Service and the Statewide Health Improvement Partnership (SHIP) grantee in the county, promoted and supported the new model because it encourages healthy food choices and nutrition education.
Food shelves now solicit healthier food donations and that means more nutritious foods are on the shelves. They also provides healthy recipes, offers a shopping list recommending healthy options and displays healthier items more prominently.
Food shelves increased the overall shelf space for healthier foods; place these options at the front; separates low-sodium and whole-grain food options and uses signage to highlight them; and displays produce in a more appealing, accessible way.
The new model in the county started with the Crow Wing Energized Food Shelf Coalition, a collaborative of food shelf representatives (including a SNAP-Ed educator) from across Crow Wing County, along with support from the University of Minnesota Extension, Second Harvest and RSVP Volunteer Services.
"Most of the food in the prepackaged boxes (being handed out) was processed and perhaps more options were considered to be unhealthy, as the food shelves will use what is being donated," said Cassie Carey, Crow Wing Energized SHIP coordinator. "Through these collaborative efforts, we have used our community partnerships and conducted an educational campaign on providing healthy foods as donations to the food shelf as well."
"We found that a lot of clients couldn't use the unhealthy foods," Carey added. "They wanted healthier options. A lot of them have special dietary needs too. This new model gives them the chance to get what they want and need."
Anytime we can empower families and individuals to make healthier choices, we are creating a healthier community. - Cassie Carey, Crow Wing Energized SHIP coordinator
Sixty-seven percent of Crow Wing County food shelves are either participating in the choice model or making changes that will make the practice work effectively. Almost 849,000 pounds of food has been distributed and more than 1,400 clients have been served through the Choice Model.
Client-choice model gives clients dignity
Crow Wing County Community Services conducted a countywide health needs assessment in 2014. It found that one out of every three adults in Crow Wing County worried about running out of food during the past year. Two out of three were not eating the required five or more fruits and vegetables per day. Those results encouraged the change because the new model not only makes clients more receptive to food shelves, it encourages them to choose healthier options.
"Anytime we can empower families and individuals to make healthier choices, we are creating a healthier community," Carey said.
Food shelf supporters welcome the change. "We wondered if it would work," said Linda Loftis, Brainerd Salvation Army President, "and the answer is a resounding yes. Allowing people to choose their own food has proven to be very successful."
"It not only gives residents better food, it also gives them dignity," Loftis added. "That’s important because clients walk away feeling the same way as if they are using a supermarket. I credit this success to the coalition and SHIP's support."