HUGO — As the Hugo Good Neighbors Food Shelf prepares to mark its 11th anniversary, board members are looking ahead to a building expansion, one that will likely be necessary within a handful of years or so. On average, the organization serves around 175 families per week within the 55038 zip code area.
“We are now seeing a need that we will have to expand or build another building within the next five to 10 years,” said Kris Emerson, food shelf board member and previous board president.
Although the details are still being worked out, the idea would be to construct another building next to its existing building and utilize both buildings in some capacity to accommodate a significant increase in population within the area the food shelf serves.
Additional pressures are mounting, too, because of recent job losses in the community.
The food shelf recently posted a plea on Facebook for monetary donations. The number of people seeking food assistance has risen because of the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. The previous week, the March 19 post stated, more than 2,400 pounds of food were distributed — 20% more than during the average week.
Food shelf volunteers continue to distribute food under recent operational changes that include prepackaged food boxes and prescheduled curbside distribution to protect the health and safety of clients, volunteers and staff.
11 years of giving
The Hugo Good Neighbors Food Shelf (HGNFS) has had its roots in the community from the beginning. Formally established in April 2009 as a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization, the HGNFS held a community ribbon-cutting on June 5 that year. Volunteers, the city and community members desired to have a standalone food shelf that was not affiliated with a private organization in order to provide more operational financial transparency to food shelf donors.
It was the second food shelf located in Hugo at that time; Hosanna Lutheran Church of Forest Lake had established the Hugo Community Food Shelf in 2004 as an outreach program. The Hugo Community Food Shelf initially operated out of a trailer parked on city property (now Hanifl Fields Athletic Park). In 2006, the Hugo Community Food Shelf was taken under the wing of nonprofit Hosanna Harbors Inc. and was relocated to Hosanna Harbors’ fair trade store in the Victor Gardens North retail development later that year. The two food shelves operated independently of each other until 2012, when the Hugo Community Food Shelf decided to close its doors.
The HGNFS began serving about 10 families per month out of the city’s 700-square-foot storage garage located in Lions Park behind Hugo City Hall. The building had inadequate heating and cooling systems and did not have restrooms. Volunteers had to cross the icy parking lot, often in the dark hours of winter, to use the restrooms inside City Hall.
“We started raising money for a new building right away,” said Cindy Petty, HGNFS board member. “We started doing fundraisers ... big garage sales, and we started our (annual) pasta dinner and comedy fundraisers.”
The organization was able to buy land and improve its space thanks to a $70,000 Community Development Block Grant it received in November 2013 and the successful capital campaign that followed.
The food shelf building fund was established in 2014 when the food shelf’s board took out a three-year loan for $250,000 to build a new facility on Francesca Ave. N. “We built that building and paid it off within two years,” Emerson recalled, adding that many community members not only contributed financially but also volunteered to help.
The food shelf has now operated out of its new building for almost five years; it opened in May 2015 and paid off its entire mortgage in March 2017, thanks to generous local donors.
Major food suppliers are beginning to change their rules about who can use the food shelf, and this is an additional concern for HGNFS volunteers.
“We are worried that if we have to start servicing everybody, we are not going to have enough for our citizens, and it is the cities of Hugo and Centerville that support us financially,” Petty said. “If you need help, we want to be there to help.”
As the food shelf is temporarily no longer able to accept food donations from the general public at the food shelf location because of exposure risks, online donations at hugofoodshelf.org/give are preferred. Online donations speed up turnaround time for food purchases. Donation bins remain available for purchased food at Festival in Hugo and Cub Foods in White Bear Lake.
For more information about the HGNFS, or to donate, visit hugofoodshelf.org/ or call 651-528-6224. Checks can be made payable to Hugo Food Shelf; mail to P. O. Box 373, Hugo, MN 55038.
Lead Editor Shannon Granholm can be reached at 651-407-1227 or email@example.com.