Category Archives: Neighbors Inc.

Sharing the Bounty: A Day in the Life of a Food Shelf Manager

Note:  As families and friends gather to enjoy the feasts of this holiday season it is a privilege to know and share the story of one man who spends his long days making sure that everyone in the community shares both the bounty and the love of their neighbors.  ~ ~ ~

Scott Andrews is the energetic manager responsible for providing a warm welcome and wholesome food to the families of northern Dakota County (MN) who depend on Neighbors, Inc.

7:30 AM

The volunteers have already been at Cub Foods and Super Target where they have picked up and now delivered fresh produce, dairy products, fresh and frozen meat products.  This morning the Boy Scouts have dropped off an impressive load of canned goods plus a check they have collected at their weekend food drive.   Scott is psyched for a busy day – it’s the first of the month.

8:00 AM:

Scott is joined by Linda, a volunteer who has kept the food shelf running on an even keel for over thirty years.  Linda’s husband has already been on volunteer duty with the crew at Cub.

8:30 AM

Before the doors open to clients, a second crew of volunteers come on board.  This crew will sort the fresh produce, bag some, cull out the not-so-fresh, and create a tempting display of nutritious veggies for the shoppers.  They will also weigh the canned goods, scratch off the bar codes and check the expiration dates to assure quality control.  They’ll package the fresh meat in family-size amounts, bag the apples and oranges  (if there is fresh fruit today), check the eggs, refrigerate the dairy products, prepared salads and dairy treats, wash the veggies, shelve the fresh baker products and otherwise present the clients with a display of food that is as attractive as it is wholesome.

Meanwhile, clients are arriving at the reception desk upstairs.  Families wait patient as busy staffers check their ID’s and verification documents.  Each family must be recertified once a month.  Hungry children examine the picture books and squirm impatiently as they wait foe the grownups to complete the necessary paperwork.  Moms and dads wait patiently to go through the hoops required to put healthy food on the family table.  Elderly folks help keep an eye on the little ones, thinking fondly of their own grandchildren.

9:00 AM:

The food shelf phones begin to ring- and the action begins.  The families whose credentials are in order after they have met with the intake staff are ready to shop.  Spirits rise ad the customers enter the food shelf, clutching wiggly kids and free-wheeling grocery carts, eager to explore their shopping options.

The little ones are quick to spy the breakfast cereal and peanut butter that are in stock this week.  The moms catch a sidelong glimpse of the shampoo and scented soaps that donors have toted back from their hotel stays.

A volunteer interrupts her work to help a dad whose having a struggle with four-year-old twins.  She finds a picture book to share with the boys so the dad can shop and get to work on time.

10:30 AM:

Scott scans the shelves to make sure the labels are up to date and clearly displayed.  Because Neighbors is an “open choice” food shelf customers, with the help of volunteers, can select their own grocery items – ever dependent on what’s available that day.  Each shelf is meticulously labeled so that the clients know exactly how many of “product X” they may selection a family of “Y” members.  One of Scott’s jobs is to make sure that the labels on the shelves reflect the changes in supply.  Unlike the supermarket manager he has little control over available commodities.

Another team of volunteers arrives.  Scott reassesses the tasks and the team as he lays out the work plan for the next shift.  Over the course of the week Scott will see to it that each of the sixty food shelf volunteers has a job that fits his or her skill and interests.

Today there are donations to be weighed and entered in the data base.  Every ounce of food that comes in is weighted.  Every donor is to be credited and individually thanked.


Volunteers share a  pleasant break in the day by helping a family celebrate a birthday!  The intake person who follows the family’s record has alerted Scott that the little girl is celebrating her sixth birthday.  A volunteer finds a decorated cake donated by a local grocery store.  Cake and candles in hand, the family heads home to share a special evening.

 ~ ~ ~

And so the day goes – the volunteer shifts manage the steady flow of food and families.  Scott attends a staff meeting, completes the food orders for the near future, checks the shelves, reviews the raft of  health regulations,  struggles with the budget, chats with the  volunteers and welcomes a constant flow of customers with a warm smile.

Food shelf management doesn’t require a degree from the Culinary Institute of America or experience as a sommelier — in fact there is no formally accredited academic program geared to the vocation.  Still, Scott’s skill set bears a strong resemblance to that of a master restaurateur with a flair for customer care and stretching a dollar.  He knows food – the nutritional value, the cost, the availability, the presentation of the product.  Because he has little control over the sources or selection of the food he provides his clients, Scott explores creative techniques to make a pre-selected menu of wholesome food products irresistible.  As a result, he calculates that 87% of the food selections by his food shelf clients are distinctly healthy choices.

Dependent on the generosity of individual and institutional donors, Scott doesn’t enjoy the luxury of daily trips to the farmers’ market – though he welcomes with open arms the produce contributed by vendors at the end of the day’s market.  He  doesn’t order delicacies from the fresh fish purveyor or offer exotic taste treats to his customers.  His greatest asset is a staff of dependable volunteers who work because they care and because their efforts make a difference for members of the community.    It is up to Scott to “keep things interesting.”

Food shelf management is not one of the professional paths a talented youth is likely to pursue.  Scott himself did not exactly choose the career he now loves.  His degree from Northern Michigan University was in Spanish and International Studies.  It was during his stint as a youth ministry volunteer in Costa Rica that he mastered his language skills and learned to enjoy working with volunteers.  He is quick to point out, too, that the time he spent as a laborer in a gasket factory was great preparation for managing the food shelf inventory.

And this rich range of experience forged a flexible attitude perfectly suited to the lively food shelf environment.  Though it may not be a paved road to the pinnacle of the hospitality industry, it works for Scott – and for the Neighbors community that is enriched by the talents and the spirit with which he meets the shifting challenges of each day.






Just Checking — When a PHone Call Really Matters

Will anybody call me today?

This wisp of self-doubt came from an elderly woman in response to a query about what questions she might have about life, the universe and everything.  A parish nurse who had been to visit the homebound member of her congregation shared the poignant story.  The simple question has stayed with me as I have been on t he periphery of a program called Tele-Care sponsored by Neighbors, Inc. where I have been a volunteer in recent times.

Many of us are perpetually at the ready, knowing the phone will ring any minute.  With any luck it is a friend or family member wanting to share a bit of cheer.  Or then again, it may be a salesperson, a pollster, a wrong number or, for families with teenagers….. The point in, we get lots o f calls spoken or texted on our landline, cell phone, inevitably on a Dick Tracy-style wristwatch or an implanted device.  It’s hard to hear the lonely voice of this isolated woman hoping for – and needing – a friendly phone call.

Human service providers use the term “telephone reassurance program” to categorize organizations that have structured ways to facilitate what is, in fact, a simple exchange in which a volunteer makes a scheduled call to an individual who is unable to get out of his or her home.  The caller is a phone friend, just checking to be sure the homebound person has eaten properly, taken prescribed meds on time, has enough food in the house to withstand the next blizzard, remembers to keep the doctor appointment or the visit to the hairdresser – and to spread a bit of good cheer along the way.

Of course family members, friends and neighbors make “telephone reassurance” calls all the time – it’s just that some folks, such as the woman who spoke with the parish nurse, fall through the conversation cracks.  At the same time, one source of a regular check-in, the Meals on Wheels program, has been restructured; for many, the daily drop-in by the MOW driver is yet another loss.

Spotting an opportunity, a number of corporations are promoting pricey “telephone reassurance” products and services to vulnerable adults and their concerned families.  For generous volunteers, a lonely senior or disabled person is a neighbor who needs a helping hand.  For others, that same homebound person is a source of easy income – robo-calls are cheap.

Volunteer programs such as Neighbors’ Tele-Care are no cost to the recipient for whom a daily phone call is both a day brightener and a safety net.  Generous – and chatty – volunteers enjoy t he program as much as the individuals who get the call.  Some say they appreciate the structure that a scheduled call adds to their day.  In many cases, friendships blossom and bear fruit.

Neighbors’ Tele-Care is one of countless low-cost/high impact programs hosted by nonprofits and faith communities.  It happens to be the one with which I have experience.

My thought is to share the concept, not any specific program.  Connecting a lonely person with a program such as Tele-Care would make a thoughtful holiday gift – one that truly deserves the tagline “the gift that keeps on giving.”

Neighbors’ Tele-Care program is open to all who live in the seven-county metro area.  For more information, check the Neighbors website or call Tele-Care at 651 306-1408 or

Teen Organizes Stylish Thank You to Neighbors, Inc.

Thrift shopping is hot with teens.   Thrift is a major motivator for young fashionistas who search out name label finds for fun and fashion.  Teens for whom recycling is a way of life assume that recycling wear-ables is an environmental  issue.  The essence of thrift shopping is that it is a grand adventure that comes with bragging rights for the shopper.

Kimberly Wilmes, a sophomore at South St. Paul High School, seized the opportunity to fulfill a “personal project” assignment and to thank a benefactor.  Her project:  Design-on-a-Dime, a style show featuring high end fashions plucked from the Clothes Closet at Neighbors, Inc.

Today Kim is a vibrant, beautiful, talented young woman – full of energy and ideas.  When she was placed with a foster family at eight weeks of age, she was a sick infant with special nutritional needs.  Her foster parents were able to obtain essential food form Neighbors food shelf.   In time Kim was adopted by the Wilmes family from whom she heard the stories of Neighbors’ assistance.   At Neighbors Clothes Closet she learned to spot fashion bargains.   As a teen with a task, she thought to say thank you to her benefactors.

Assignment in mind, Kim imagined the possibilities – she would go back to Neighbors, this time to the Clothes Closet.   At the end of the school day Kim would comb the racks at Neighbors Clothes Closet for designer label outfits.   With her mom as gentle adviser Kim considered and tried  racks of  fashion options.  She recruited classmates to advise, then model, the wardrobes.  With a keen eye and a good bit of conversation they decided on image-outfits – sassy tops with bold bottoms, accessories, shoes, hats.,bags – the total look.  Everything from casual to evening wear, even a bridal gown

On Friday evening, December 1, Kim, her coterie of models, including one extroverted male and some charming little girls for whom Kim babysits, strutted their coordinated stuff in the Design-on-a-Dime style show.  The show was fast-paced and professional.  The designer finds from Neighbors Clothes Closet were sensational – as were the prices which Kim itemized for the appreciative audience who responded with exuberant appreciation for the fashions – and the prices..

The show and community gathering were at Augustana Lutheran Church in West St. Paul.   Admission was a donation of non-perishable food or personal product to the Neighbors food shelf.  The food and the public poured in as the models prepped for their non-stop changes and their several promenades on the fashion runway.

Kim moderated the show with poise and aplomb that belied her youth.  Likewise the models who strutted their stuff with professional panache and pride.

Kim’s gratitude to Neighbors is an inspiration – – as is her passion to save money and the environment.  Kim embodies the spirit of creative volunteerism that has been the strength of Neighbors for forty years.  With young people like Kim Wilmes Neighbors will continue to serve the residents of northern Dakota County for decades to come.