by Sal Mondelli
Chief Executive Officer
Asking for assistance is not easy for anyone. When people come to 360 Communities for help, they have usually run out of options. Maybe they are unemployed; perhaps their jobs don’t pay enough to cover unanticipated expenses. They could have a medical crisis, a disability, or their retirement savings could be depleted. They could be experiencing violence in the home. Often a person has a combination of crises that has put them in this vulnerable position. The bottom line is that they are in need and it is our role to assist them without judgment, and help them achieve long-term stability.
Our mission statement begins, “In the spirit of caring for our neighbors, 360 Communities provides hope and support to people…” We meet people where they are and help them retain their dignity at a time in their lives when things seem out of control. Hunger is one of the most common crises that 360 Communities helps to address. According to Second Harvest Heartland, one in ten Minnesotans are food insecure, meaning they worry about running out of food before they have money to shop again, they cannot afford a balanced meal, or they regularly skip meals. Hunger Solutions also says that one in five Minnesota households with children are facing hunger. Hunger is a barrier for the many, not the few. With the need so great in our communities, it is important for 360 Communities to build strong relationships with our clients in order to lay the foundation for long-term success.
With our network of five food shelves in Apple Valley, Burnsville, Farmington, Lakeville and Rosemount, 360 Communities believes that our food shelf customers should be treated like customers in a grocery store. When someone walks into a quality grocery store, they are greeted with bins of fresh fruits and leafy greens, refrigerators with meat and cheese, and other healthy options. In short, stores market to customers by displaying their food in the most inviting way they can. This makes customers feel valued. In the same manner, we want our food shelf customers to feel welcome, we want them to feel comfortable, and we want them to have healthy food choices.
Over the past few years, 360 Communities has made changes to our food shelves and resource centers to better serve our customers, understand their needs, and support important long-term stability work. We transformed two of our food shelves into client choice shopping models, where customers shop for their own food rather than pick up prepackaged bags of food. We also surveyed our food shelf customers in 2015, and received valuable feedback: 90 percent of respondents said they would appreciate more healthy food choices when they come to shop.
360 Communities has created Healthy Food Guidelines that spell out our commitment to the procurement of healthy food options for our customers. Fresh food is expensive and that cost is a barrier to a healthy diet for the most vulnerable in our society. When people are on a tight budget, the least expensive and processed foods are often all they can afford. These options may be filling, but do not have the nutritional value people need or desire. 360 Communities is committed to providing high quality and nutritious food for our customers which is a key component in preventing chronic disease and promoting a healthier community.
According to the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, “there is some evidence that food banks and food pantries that use healthy food initiatives increase fruit and vegetable consumption, improve diet quality, and increase food security for clients more than traditional food banks and pantries.”
We are currently working with The Food Group, a local food bank, to help redesign our Burnsville Food Shelf so that our fresh food is front and center. This will help make the space more inviting for our customers and look more like a grocery store, where the location of healthy food options is clear. In conjunction with this effort, 360 Communities is one of five Minnesota food shelves taking part in a University of Minnesota pilot that will help us track the amount and kinds of healthy food we distribute.
This work will ensure that our Healthy Food Guidelines are more than just words on a piece of paper. It will help improve our food shelf customers’ shopping experience. When we create a welcoming environment for our clients, we are more likely to build trusting relationships with them because they see that we care about their experience as well as their well-being.
This does not mean that 360 Communities is eliminating desserts and other processed foods from our food shelves or making food selection decisions for our customers. It does mean that we will prioritize the purchase of fresh food from food banks and market the healthy food options we have available. This reflects our continuing efforts to implement best practices to assist our clients in their journey toward increased self-sufficiency. We are working to have our Burnsville Food Shelf design changes in place by the end of this summer.
During the month of July, there are many ways you can support your neighbors through 360 Communities:
- 360 Communities is participating in Open Your Heart to the Hungry and Homeless’ “Summer Challenge.” We are seeking to raise as many cash donations as possible during the month to qualify for a portion of Open Your Heart grant money. The summer months are difficult for families with students out of school and unable to access free or reduced priced lunches. This increases demand on our network of food shelves at a time of year when food shelf donations are typically lower. Donate here.
- We are encouraging anyone with a home garden to donate surplus produce to our food shelves this summer to help us provide as many healthy food options as possible for our customers.
- 360 Communities also has a number of volunteer needs you can view here. Currently, there is an acute need for help in our family resource centers in Burnsville and Rosemount.
For more than 45 years, this organization has built trusting relationships with our neighbors in crisis and provided them with the hope and support they need to navigate past difficult periods in their lives. With your partnership, we can help our food shelf customers confidently move forward on a path of healthy choices and self-directed success. 360 Communities: changing lives and strengthening communities to a new degree.