MARSHALL - "Rescuing" food that would otherwise be thrown out, collaborating with other agencies and working smarter are some of the techniques that got Western Community Action in Marshall on a state agency's radar.
Western Community Action Inc. was among eight agencies honored this week for creating new initiatives designed to help people facing a wide array of issues, including chronic disease, lack of transportation, and affordable housing and food insecurity. The 2014 award-winners were singled out for creating initiatives that provide measurable outcomes.
The Minnesota Community Action Partnership - a consortium of Minnesota's 26 community action agencies - bestows Best Practices Awards biannually to agencies breaking new ground in the delivery of services to low-income people. The awards program is a model for other states seeking to coordinate community-based anti-poverty efforts and university systems.
Photo by Karin Elton
Western Community Action volunteers Lori Lerohl and Steve Collins lift boxes of food that has almost reached its expiration date Friday morning at Wal-Mart. They use an old Marshall transit bus to make their food rescue runs. The produce, breakfast items and meat will be given out at area food shelves.
"These awards recognize the extremely effective family-strengthening work of Community Action Agencies statewide," said Catherine A. Solheim, Ph.D., family social science professor at the University of Minnesota College of Human Education and Human Development. "The hallmark of these programs are the tangible outcomes that demonstrate how people living in poverty are improving their lives. I am excited to use these programs as examples in my classroom to train the next generation of professionals in social work, family science, and policy."
The judges for the awards reviewed nominations based on documented outcomes, innovation and replicability. Bonus points were awarded to projects involving community collaborations.
WCA of Marshall has all that covered and more. One of its recent innovative programs is "rescuing" not quite-expired food from local food vendors that would otherwise be transported to the landfill.
The result? Being able to give food shelf shoppers 26.8 pounds of food per visit rather than less than 20, said Margaret Palan, the community resource specialist who works with Kitchen Table Food Shelf in Marshall.
"It's a win-win situation," said Palan. "The stores don't have to discard that food and can get a tax deduction and we can give out more food. We go to Wal-Mart, County Fair and Pizza Ranch three times a week. Sometimes at the end of the season schools will have us pick up milk that they don't need."
"We wouldn't be able to do a lot of this without our volunteers," she added.
The extra food is shared with smaller area food shelves, said Angela Larson, community and family support director.
WCA also assists other food delivery programs such as Ruby's Pantry and Esther's Kitchen.
"At Ruby's Pantry you can get quite a bit of food for a nominal fee," Larson said. "We have helped Esther's Kitchen with their financial and volunteer pieces. We helped them build an advising board and get a little bit of funding."
Larson said WCA's aim is to "try to be frugal - not use a lot of money" and to facilitate long-term programs that are self-sustaining.