One of the “proudest and saddest” foodservice-related programs at Hennepin County Medical Center, in Minneapolis, according to Food and Nutrition Services Director Bill Marks, is the monthly Food Shelf program his department runs in conjunction with pediatrics, which gives out bags of food for needy families whose children are being seen in the Pediatrics Clinic.
The program is sustained through grants, donations and the volunteer work of medical center employees. Marks’ team purchases food items—oftentimes from food banks “for pennies on the dollar”—stores it and packages it up for handouts.
Marks says he believes it’s time to take Food Shelf to a higher level and he says he is hoping to offer Food Shelf as a supermarket, where families can choose what they’d like, instead of accepting what they’re given.
“Right now, we give people a bag of food that we’ve collected,” he explains. “My goal would be to set up the program like a supermarket. Families would be allotted a set weight, like five pounds of food. We would stock the shelves with items, but instead of prices the items would be marked in ounces. They would ‘buy’ food until they hit their limit. This way they can pick what they need but also what they like.”
Marks admits that the biggest hurdle to overcome will be finding a space to set up the program and he doesn’t have a time frame set up yet. But he knows one thing for certain: Food Shelf isn’t going away.
“We’ve been doing this for six years, and every year the program has grown,” he says, noting that in 2013 the medical center gave away the equivalent of 215,000 meals. “In addition to giving away the bags of food to families coming through the clinic, once a month we open up Food Shelf to anyone who is at 200 percent or less of the poverty level.”
Food Shelf is one of several community-oriented projects the foodservice department manages. Another is opening up the hospital cafeteria each summer for the USDA Summer Feeding Program. “This summer we served 2,789 children, and we expanded the service to include breakfast,” Marks explains. “Children receive a full, nutritionally balanced breakfast or lunch free of charge, and their parents receive food from our Food Shelf.”