For nearly 10 years, the Belle Plaine Area Food Shelf has been fighting hunger by providing food with respect and dignity to community members.
On Friday, July 11, the organization will celebrate its ten year anniversary.
Throughout the month of July, organizers will be finding even more ways to give back to Belle Plaine as a thank-you to the countless community members who have donated time, money, and food to the organization over the last decade.
Currently, about 50 volunteer members help run the food shelf.
Current officers are President Betsy Ollhoff, Treasurer Vicki Boruff, Vice President Jim Lange, and Facilities Manager Pat Ollhoff.
The Early Days of the B.P. Food Shelf
In 2009, Betsy Ollhoff and a group from Ecumenical Community Hope Outreach sent out a survey to find out what resource people in town needed most.
“A food shelf came up over and over,” she said.
Belle Plaine citizens had been using food shelves in neighboring towns and nearby townships, but many found the drive times difficult and the hours of availability limited.
“We knew that there was a need to have something a little more regular,” she said.
Ollhoff reached out to community members to help get the project going, then enlisted her husband, Pat Ollhoff, to help remodel the proposed location in the former Huber Grocery Store (149 Meridian Street N.).
“He had a lot of grocery experience. I used to work at Target, so between the two of us, we had some retail background and we went from there,” she said.
Local businesses donated food, money, and furniture, individuals contributed old coolers and refrigerators, and the boy scouts helped carry in donated desks, file cabinets, and food.
The Belle Plaine Area Food Shelf, in conjunction with the USDA and Second Harvest Heartland, opened officially in July 2011.
"We couldn’t have done it without the support of the organizations and the people," said Pat Ollhoff. "Everyone has supported us really well - the churches, Rotary Club, Lions Club, even individuals, businesses, and many, many more."
Obstacles in the early days included old refrigerators that didn’t always work, high energy bills, and high rent.
The Rotary Club later donated $11,000 for new coolers and refrigeration, which made a big difference for the budget and food availability.
“We were pretty good with the budget; we had a variety of people who were frugal and good with numbers and the best thing we did was come to this place across the street,” he said.
A New Location
A few years after opening, the Food Shelf purchased its own location at 128 North Meridian Street in the former Belle Video store.
They received yearly grant funding from the Minnesota Statewide Health Improvement Program for things like refrigerators, bins, programming, signs, and paint.
Then, in 2020, the Food Shelf began a collaboration with the University of Minnesota, the Minnesota Department of Health, and SHIP and received a $5,000 grant to become a Super Shelf.
A Super Shelf follows certain organizational rules to ensure clients have the best access to healthy food options.
“We are in the minority as far as how many people have been certified Super Shelf and we are proud of that. We decided that would be a good challenge for us,” said Betsy Ollhoff.
The Ollhoffs say they are both extremely proud of maintaining a Food Shelf location in Belle Plaine for a decade.
“I think that we have survived ten years and our building is paid for and we are in good shape financially. We’ve got phenomenal volunteers and a great support system from within Belle Plaine. There are a lot of things to be proud of,” she said.
To thank the community for a decade of commitment to the organization, the Food Shelf is finding even more ways to give back to Belle Plaine with events throughout July.
The Food Shelf will host a COVID-19 vaccine clinic in partnership with Scott County Public Health on Wednesday, July 14, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at 128 N. Meridian St. Patients will receive the Pfizer vaccine.
The clinic will be open to everyone ages 12+ and will be free with no insurance required.
The clinic is open to all community members, not just clients.
Walk-ins are welcome.
On Thursday, July 22, the Food Shelf will host a produce exchange at the parking lot near the Belle Plaine Football Field.
Anyone from the community is invited to drive in and take a box of produce.
“We will have one in July and one in August; it's real simple and we are looking for volunteers for that,” she said.
On Tuesday, July 13, the Belle Plaine Chamber of Commerce will host its coffee hour at the Food Shelf from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m.
Food Shelf's Hours of Operation
The Belle Plaine Area Food Shelf is open on Wednesdays from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. and on Saturdays from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. However, it will not be open on Saturday, July 3.