In a year when the only constant is change, one of the university’s comforting familiarities has been Tommie Shelf. On the first Tuesday of every month, come rain, shine, subzero temperatures or global pandemic, Tommie Shelf and Keystone Community Services are outside the Facilities and Design Center in St. Paul, providing the St. Thomas community and the community at large with shelf-stable groceries, fresh produce and a friendly hello. Maintaining the monthly grocery event, however, was not enough for the Tommie Shelf team – unprecedented times and unprecedented need called for action and growth, and with the support of the university and the surrounding community, Tommie Shelf rose to the occasion.

Student volunteers work to organize and fill bags of food items in Opus Hall where Tommie Shelf expanded it’s efforts and launched on the Minneapolis campus on March 17, 2021.

Student volunteers work to organize and fill bags of food items.

On March 17, Tommie Shelf opened its doors across the river on the Minneapolis campus through a new partnership with Good in the ‘Hood (GITH), a local nonprofit organization that partners with sites across the Twin Cities and turns those sites into pop-up food shelves through their Food-Shelf-in-a-Box program.

“It has always been our model to partner with local organizations and develop mutually beneficial relationships,” said Casey Gordon, program manager for the Center for the Common Good and director of Tommie Shelf. “They are the food systems experts, and we are the volunteer and community engagement experts. It’s the most efficient way to utilize resources.”

That efficient use of resources for Tommie Shelf Minneapolis requires one extra step, however, which ties the program to the community in a different and unique way. While Tommie Shelf in St. Paul is able to pack up any unclaimed food and send it back to Keystone’s food shelves via the Keystone Foodmobile, the Tommie Shelf Minneapolis program had to find a second partner to rescue unclaimed food from the Minneapolis event.

“Good in the ‘Hood doesn’t transport the food to us directly,” explained Angela Mendez, counselor and life skills coach at Dougherty Family College (DFC), and co-director of Tommie Shelf Minneapolis, “and since their partner, Second Harvest Heartland, does not come back to pick up unused food, we reached out to St. Vincent de Paul to see if they would be interested in driving their truck by at the end of our event to bring the food to their warehouse for distribution. They said yes and it’s worked out perfectly so far.”

Thus, what started as a partnership between the Center for the Common Good and one area nonprofit less than two years ago has turned into a partnership involving two campuses and four nonprofits, each playing their part in breaking transportation barriers to food access and ensuring that no food goes to waste in the process. But these nonprofits are not the only partners playing an integral part in food access for all Tommies.

Students Naima Jama, left, and Alonso Ruiz, right, work to organize and fill bags with food items.

Students Naima Jama, left, and Alonso Ruiz, right, work to organize and fill bags with food items.

Amy Kadrmas, career and academic success coach at Dougherty Family College and co-director of Tommie Shelf Minneapolis, found this opportunity to be perfect for her Phi Theta Kappa students who are always first in line to dedicate time to their community. “The students did a canned food drive for Tommie Shelf last winter,” she said. “We weren’t entirely sure what sort of response they would get, but they ended up really blowing it out of the water. The Center for the Common Good said it was the most successful food drive they’ve ever had for Tommie Shelf. After that, we knew we were ready to take on the project.”

And take it on they did. From designing T-shirts, to making Instagram advertisements, to unloading food from the Second Harvest Heartland truck, to packing 48 bags of groceries – the DFC Phi Theta Kappa team did it all and made it look effortless.

Tommie Shelf Minneapolis, a program of Good in the ‘Hood, will continue its spring run on April 21 and May 19 from 3-5:00 p.m. in Opus Hall (MOH), Room 201, and will relaunch for the fall in September. All St. Thomas community members – faculty, staff and students – are welcome to attend. To get updates on all things Tommie Shelf, follow @ustchangemaking on Instagram and the Center for the Common Good on Facebook. For inquiries, email Casey Gordon.

 

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