Stillwater’s Valley Outreach expands programming to Bayport

This month, the Valley Outreach food shelf begins a monthly produce distribution at Perro Park in Bayport, and kicks off a collaboration in St. Paul’s Frogtown neighborhood.

On Thursday, June 1, the Stillwater-based nonprofit gave away fresh fruits and vegetables, with no geographic boundaries or financial requirements.

“This is the second off-site program we have for free, fresh produce,” executive director Tracy Maki said. “It’s simple for families to ‘grab and go’ in a farmer’s market-style set up. What we’ve learned in almost a year of a free distribution at Oak-Land Junior High is that people often prefer to go someplace familiar. Not everyone wants to be at our Stillwater location, though we do offer much more here.”

Other off-site Valley Outreach programs include Mobile Choice, delivery of food to homebound individuals, now in year three; and Snack Pack, weekend bags of food for children in the 834 school district eligible for free and reduced meals, just ending its fourth year.

See valleyoutreachmn.org for the schedule of future produce distributions in Bayport.

On June 9, Valley Outreach’s newest partnership went public in St. Paul with Food Rescue Fridays. In close collaboration with the Frogtown Neighborhood Association, St. Stephanus Church and Second Harvest Heartland, free food will be available 3-5 p.m., every Friday at St. Stephanus Lutheran Church at the corner of Blair and Grotto.

With the closing of the Sharing Korner food shelf in Frogtown last summer, families have had a more difficult time getting basic groceries, says Valley Outreach. By combining the technical food shelf knowledge of Valley Outreach, the deep community connections of the Frogtown Neighborhood Association and St. Stephanus Lutheran Church, as well as free space at the church, the partners intend to work with Second Harvest Heartland to give “retail rescue” to households with a food need.

Retail rescue is the term for perishable food items available at grocery stores just a day or two earlier. Inventory is constantly moving, and when excess is too much for a store to handle, it is donated to food shelves.

“Second Harvest has a robust program to handle all the logistics,” Maki said. “We have leveraged it to meet needs in Stillwater for a long time and we can offer that technical assistance to our colleagues in Frogtown. This is not a Valley Outreach program, it is an effort built within the neighborhood. We are there to share our knowledge, then bow out and allow those most closely invested to run the effort. Traditionally, there isn’t much expertise sharing amongst food shelves because we’re all so busy meeting need in our home communities. This new collaboration is working because we’re all giving a little of ourselves and will create something sustainable.”

The schedule for the free food distribution in Frogtown is at saintstephanus.org.