Just days before Thanksgiving with the help of Northgate Church in Ramsey, River Trail Learning Center (RTLC), Coon Rapids, opened “OuR TLC Shelf,” a food shelf for students and their families.
Julie Beaufeaux, the RTLC social worker, said the food shelf was started because staff have been aware of RTLC families’ needs in recent years.
While most families are working very hard, the economic downturn has hit them hard, she said.
When the decision was made to start the food shelf, Northgate (RTLC’s partner through the Anoka-Hennepin School District’s Faith and Community Partnership) held two food drives at the church.
In addition, church liaison, Wayne Skaff, went with RTLC staff to Cub and purchased five grocery carts of food.
“Starting the food shelf before the five-day break was intentional,” Beaufeaux said.
“Some students might not get breakfast and lunch when they are not in school.
“For the winter break, Northgate will purchase food from Fare for All (which sells fruits, vegetables and meat in bulk) and we’ll supplement that with food from the food shelf to create baskets for families.”
A committee of five RTLC staff work with the food shelf.
In addition to help from Northgate members, RTLC staff donated their time to get the food shelf in working order and students learned job skills through stocking the shelves.
Local businesses have also played a key role in getting the food shelf up and running.
RTLC received donations from Doroschak Dental, Target in Coon Rapids and Andover, Costco, CVS and Cub Food on Northdale Boulevard in Coon Rapids. Crest also made a toothpaste donation through Doroschak Dental.
Located in a common hallway in the school, students can visit the food shelf before school, fill out a form about what they need and pick up a backpack full of food and personal hygiene items after school.
Family members of RTLC students can also make appointments to visit the food shelf.
“We’ve seen a creative use of the food shelf,” Beaufeaux said.
“Being mindful of meal planning and knowing where they are short, parents have sent specific shopping lists with students.
“Or students will come in and say they have a household of six and let us know the items they need.
“We remind people about box tops they can return to the school as part of a school fund-raiser. That’s a way families can give back.”
Like the other food shelves found at Anoka-Hennepin schools, OuR TLC Shelf operates with no questions asked, helping anyone who says they have a need.
RTLC provides information about additional resources available to families if necessary.
In the future, the food shelf committee would like to add recipe cards as a resource to families.
Northgate plans to do four food drives a year to help keep the shelves stocked.
RTLC staff have also contributed to the food shelf and Beaufeaux said donations from the public are welcome.
OuR TLC Shelf’s most popular items include quick meals such as Chicken and Tuna Helper, breakfast items such as cereal and hygiene items including shampoo, conditioner and laundry detergent.
“We have a garden at River Trail, so hopefully next fall we’ll have fresh vegetables to offer,” Beaufeaux said.
Just weeks into the new project, OuR TLC Shelf is off to a successful start.
“We’ve had a very positive response; we have parents who tear up and become speechless when they see what’s available,” Beaufeaux said.
“And it’s the little things that can be so meaningful.
“One day I dropped off a basket with a family that included cough drops. The parent pulled out the cough drops and said it’s something they never have, but something she wouldn’t have thought to ask for that the family needed.
“Every recipient has been beyond thankful for what they’ve received.”
Beaufeaux said she cannot say enough to thank Northgate for its help and without the church, the food shelf would not have been possible.
The school is also thankful to the volunteers who have stepped forward to help with the food shelf.
“The food shelf will have a huge impact on students,” Beaufeaux said.
“When their basic needs are met, learning comes so much more easily. They can focus better in class if they know there is a bag of food waiting for them at the end of the day and they know they will have dinner tonight.”
Donations can be dropped off at RTLC located at 1700 Coon Rapids Blvd. N.W. in Coon Rapids.