The Two Harbors Area Food Shelf (THAFS) was founded over thirty years ago as part of the Minnesota Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Association (AEOA). It has gone through many changes since then, from becoming a separate 501C3 to relocating to a place that has allowed them to expand and ad community gardens to their program. Their mission is to “Reduce hunger and improve the health of people in need by providing food and other resources at no cost”. Michelle Miller, the Executive Director, was the only person on-staff until just recently when she got a grant to allow her to hire a volunteer coordinator. They rely on around 54 volunteers to keep their food shelf up and running.
Michelle is trying her best to break down the stereotypes of who typically uses food shelves. As she spreads the world that there is no judgement on those that use their services, and as the stigmas associated with food shelves diminishes, they have seen an uptick in clients. They served about 4,008 individuals/424households last year, and many of those were people who had never used their services before. 85% of those households have one or two incomes. Some of their clients just need THAFS to get through a crisis while others have a long-term need.
As their mission states, they try to assist their clients with more than just food. Since they share a building with the AEOA they can provide people with information, and assist in connecting them to housing and other programs. They also carry basic necessities for personal care and other non-food items. The problem is that their funding is mainly from grants, and the money from those grants can only be used for THAFS to purchase food. They rely on individual donations and for everything else.
It’s for this reason that programs like HOHP can make a big difference to them. THAFS has received 4 bags of linens and a box of shampoos and conditioners from the Canal Park Lodge. That may not seem like much, but to those who have nothing, it makes a huge difference. Michelle marveled at the quality of the items they received. The standard of quality for hotel linens is high and even the discarded ones are very nice. Michelle smiled, commenting that they were better than the ones she uses at home.
The food shelf is always looking for ways to improve their storage capacity (they distributed 111,338 lbs. of food in 2017), which is relegated to a couple of tiny rooms. They’ve gotten a freezer donated from a local restaurant, implemented a garden program that enables them to have fresh food available to clients. It’s important to remember that they don’t receive money from the city or county, but rely on grants and individual donations.
Michelle also believes in the importance of having a strong network of people in the community. Prior to working with HOHP she had never received hospitality items from any hotels. One local hotel did a fundraiser for them where they donated part of the profits from their rooms that were booked during the fundraiser. It brought and awareness to their guests about the needs of the THAFB and guests ended up writing separate checks to contribute to the fundraiser.
While Michelle continues to break down the stigma of food shelves and teach that there is no judgment on the people they welcome to their shelves, she many times gets “goosebumps” when she sees the generosity of the community. She continues to build relationships and find connections in the community and is interested to see where the HOHP network will go, and what it might inspire in the future.