LAFS Builds Community Resource Hub

Lakes Area Food Shelf broke ground June 21st for a 1,920-square foot expansion to its current building in Pequot Lakes. The new space will house a Community Resource Hub co-located with the current food shelf building. The move extends LAFS’ efforts to feed those in need while addressing factors causing a spike in hunger in the Brainerd Lakes Region. It comes in response to community feedback received as LAFS developed its first Strategic Plan.

“We took a hard look at the increasing number of people needing food assistance; discussed the root causes of hunger; and figured out what we – as a community of people who believe in community – can do,” explained LAFS Board Chair Tim Moore. “We identified a productive, impactful solution to helping our neighbors live healthier, more productive lives.”

When it opens in 2024, The Community Resource Hub will:
1. Increase the food shelf’s shopping and warehouse areas to accommodate the dramatic rise in numbers served and the food required to help them.
2. Provide private office space for direct service providers who will rotate in and out of LAFS on specific days, each month.
3. Provide a library of resource materials, applications, and more.
4. Have a technology center, where neighbors can fill out and submit on-line applications for housing, health insurance, employment, and more.
5. Have a conference room for job-skill training, mental health awareness sessions, issues facing seniors, and much, much more.

The practice of food shelf as “community resource hub” is gaining traction nationwide. Advocacy on behalf of those described as “food insecure” is now defined as delivering healthy, nutrient rich food and attempting to mitigate the underlying challenges that lead people to visit a food shelf. Feeding America – the leading non-profit hunger advocacy organization in the U.S. – supports this holistic approach because “…hunger is a complex issue. When people face hunger, they often struggle to meet other basic needs as well — such as housing, employment, and healthcare.”

The LAFS Community Resource Hub will also address a geographic issue, the lack of direct service providers in the northern tier of Crow Wing County.

“Direct service providers who can assist friends and neighbors are located 20-30 miles south, in Brainerd/Baxter. With transportation a key issue for many we serve, that distance might as well be 200 miles,” said LAFS Director Kathy Adams. “With these experts on site, we can provide nutritious food and a path toward addressing the underlying conditions that brought them to us in the first place.”

LAFS tested the concept in a pilot project this past year, basing a Crow Wing County Housing and Homeless Specialist next door to the food shelf at Grace United Methodist Church. The specialist told LAFS Board of Directors In a recent report, “This has been a successful relationship, and we have to keep the momentum going for families up here.” That’s now possible as LAFS develops an entire network of experts in needed disciplines.

Funding for the nearly $500,000 building expansion came from a $90,000 grant from The Blandin Foundation, a $75,000 dollar-for-dollar challenge grant from The Hunt Family, $20,000 from The Margaret A. Cargill Foundation of the Minneapolis Foundation, $12,000 from Crow Wing Power Community Trust, and many generous ongoing private donations, with the balance from the Lakes Area Food Shelf Reserve Fund. The project was designed by Builders First Source of Pequot Lakes and CMC Inc. is managing the construction process.

Grace United Methodist Church of Pequot Lakes, which has leased its property to the food shelf for many years, supported the creation of the Community Resource Hub.

“Our congregation is committed to both building community and the holistic support this expansion will allow,” said Pastor Jennifer Matthees, who also serves on the LAFS Board of Directors. “It is a beautiful thing whenever missions converge and we are proud to be a part of this extraordinary project.”

“We are thankful and grateful for the commitments by these prestigious foundations and the support of Grace United. The funds will go a long way to addressing a complex problem,” said Board Chair Tim Moore.

This is one of the most significant events in the 43-year history of Lakes Area Food Shelf. LAFS was established by Donald M. Messick, a former grocery executive who resided in Pequot Lakes, with the help of Lutheran Church of the Cross and Christ Community Church, both of Nisswa. Due to its rapid growth, it was named “Lakes Area Food Shelf” in 1991. LAFS is a 501 c 3 public charity, operated solely on financial, food, and other donations.

The groundbreaking is a celebration said Board Chair Moore, “We at Lakes Area Food Shelf express our gratitude to the great communities who have been part of this process. I am blessed to know you.”