Thanks to a joint effort between multiple generous parties, the Belle Plaine Area Food Shelf now has a fresh look and fresh food. A color scheme and artwork  are both designed to direct food shelf guests to healthier food choices, primarily fresh produce.

The update will funnel guests to the produce section before seeing any other food choices, an update that is virtually opposite of the shelf’s initial layout set in place around nine years ago.

“It used to be ‘bam’ the first thing they’d see was candy bars,” Betsy Ollhoff, the food shelf’s president, said. “Now it’s tomatoes and vegetables.”

A dramatic increase in the available produce is just one improvement to the food shelf. One walking into the shelf today might hardly recognize the space compared to years past. New woodwork, a total repaint and  new and restocked shelves came as part of a statewide initiative called the SuperShelf Program.

The program, founded through a partnership between The Food Group, Valley Outreach, the University of Minnesota Extension Health and Nutrition Team, Statewide Health Improvement Partnership, and the University of Minnesota Department of Family Medicine and Community Health in 2012 at Valley Outreach in Stillwater,  aims to provide healthy eating options for those who need the assistance of food shelves across Minnesota.

But funding the renovations was just part of the equation, according to Pat Ollhoff, Betsy’s husband and food shelf facilities manager. Pat noted that volunteers, particularly Belle Plaine students, provided a major boon to the shelf.

Belle Plaine Girl Scouts, for one, provided a major helping hand when they helped clear the shelves of old merchandise in order to rearrange the floor plan.

Dave Siwek of Siwek Lumber  donated the trim and wood for the cabinets to be installed.

The cabinets were being worked on by Bruce Mathiowetz and his industrial arts students within the Belle Plaine School District.

The Ollhoffs noted that Belle Plaine High School Principal Mindy Chevalier initiated a connection between the district and the food shelf by asking if there was any way students could get involved.

“I think it’s so important that our students step out of the classroom to use their talents to support the community,” Chevalier said. “There are no better learning opportunities than to volunteer our time and talents to help others in need.”

Betsy noted that she was happy to oblige Chevalier’s request.

“We want the younger kids to give back,” Betsy said.

Food donations come from a variety of sources but Coborn’s, who donated 32,971 pounds of food in 2019, and Kwik Trip, who pitched in 7161 pounds, provide a hefty chuck of the food distributed.

The project substantially wrapped up on Feb. 1. The Ollhoffs are planning to host a Belle Plaine Chamber of Commerce after-hours event on April 16 to give members of the Belle Plaine business community a look at the updated space.

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