Energy company ‘likes’ benefit local food shelves

Starting in late 2011 and following through into last year, ACBC Food Shelf in Anoka, NACE Food Shelf in East Bethel and Family Pathways in Cambridge all received new walk in coolers and freezers courtesy of Connexus Energy.

Don Haller of Connexus Energy (from left), Annabelle Budde of NACE Food Shelf, Kathy Wills of Family Pathways, Jerri Loughry of ACBC Food Shelf and Sam Neral of Connexus celebrate the donations that came from the recent Facebook fund-raising campaign by Connexus. Photo by Mandy Moran Froemming

Don Haller of Connexus Energy (from left), Annabelle Budde of NACE Food Shelf, Kathy Wills of Family Pathways, Jerri Loughry of ACBC Food Shelf and Sam Neral of Connexus celebrate the donations that came from the recent Facebook fund-raising campaign by Connexus. Photo by Mandy Moran Froemming

Figuring out how to fill the fridge was the next step for Samantha Neral, communications and community relations specialist for Connexus.

The energy cooperative turned to its Facebook followers to make it happen.

The social media campaign, in which Connexus donated $1 to each of the food shelves for every Facebook like it received between Nov. 1 and Dec. 30, netted $1,822 for each of the organizations.

ACBC, NACE and Family Pathways all plan to use this most recent donation to purchase food through Second Harvest Heartland, the largest hunger relief organization in the Upper Midwest. Second Harvest essentially acts as a grocery store to Twin Cities area food shelves.

For every donated dollar, Second Harvest is able to stretch it into $8 in food.

Providing something that will help serve the community and improve energy efficiency proved to be a good fit for Connexus.

Don Haller, vice president of member services and community relations for Connexus, said they sat down and asked, “How do we truly make an impact for the community we serve?”

Connexus operates as a cooperative, paying back excess profits to its members, said Haller. Once members move out of the service area, under state law Connexus is required to continue paying those dividends for the next seven years. In the eighth year, the company can either forfeit the money to the state, or donate it to charity.

Connexus chose charity, which, in turn, creates an opportunity to support community causes.

The cost ranged from $30,000 to $40,000 for the coolers and freezers at each food shelf, depending on the electrical upgrades needed at each of the locations.

After having several months to a year to see the impact of the donated equipment, all three food shelf leaders agree it has changed how they serve those in need.

“What I see is we are getting better at providing more nutritious options for our clients,” said Jerri Loughry, manager of the ACBC Food Shelf. This location serves those in need from Anoka, Andover, Ramsey, Coon Rapids and the surrounding area.

It has put all three in a position to accept much more fresh and frozen food, which can be stored longer.

Rescued food from local retailers like Target, Coburns and Kwik Trip mean food shelf clients are seeing a lot more fresh foods available. Rescued food are surplus items nearing their sell by date, but still perfectly good for consumption.

Second Harvest Heartland coordinates the delivery of rescued food to area food shelves.

Gone are the days when people had to be limited on the number of fresh foods they were allowed to take, said Loughry.

Now she faces challenges like what to do when 2,000 pounds of fresh tomatoes show up.

“We’re educating clients on how to prepare and preserve it,” said Loughry. “We want to help them become more independent.”

Many of the items come with freezing and canning tips, or recipes.

It also expands the choices from traditional staples like carrots and apples, which have a long shelf life.

“It puts us into a brand new level of delivery for our clients,” said Kathy Wills of Family Pathways.

Demand at area food shelves continues to grow as they try to become a one-stop shop for those in need, also providing clothing and connections for county assistance.

“You don’t have to reach out very far to find neighbors and relatives using the food shelves,” said Annabelle Budde, NACE facilities director.

At NACE, which serves residents of Northern Anoka County, last month they served 974 individuals, dispensing more than 24,000 pounds of food.

All three food shelves continue to see growth in use month over month, although those increases have slowed out of the double digits – the norm when the recession was in full force.

Still the numbers are high and will remain high, said Loughry. When she started with ACBC five years ago, they were serving 7,000 families annually. Now it’s 10,000.

Loughry said families are the highest category of users of the ACBC Food Shelf, followed by singles and then seniors.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t more seniors in need. Many are too proud to use the food shelf, a common thread the directors see in all the demographics.

Mandy Moran Froemming is at editor.anokaunion@ecm-inc.com

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