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Willmar Area Food Shelf begins $290,000 remodeling project

Randy Haman removes concrete Wednesday from the front porch at the Willmar Area Food Shelf where an extensive remodeling project is underway. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR -- The Willmar Area Food Shelf has begun a $290,000 project designed to replace the entrance, remodel the lobby area, shopping area and rear area, and finish the exterior with added insulation and siding.

"Our plans are really just to make the food shelf more efficient,'' says Christy Kurth, food shelf executive director.

On average, the food shelf is distributing about 50,000 pounds of food a month. That means 50,000 pounds of food are coming in and 50,000 pounds are going out, said Kurth.

"Currently, any day that you come in we have about 46,000 to 48,000 pounds of food in our building. But to maintain our levels and to be able to service the clients, it's always rotating. Six years ago, we were doing probably about 20,000 to 25,000 pounds of food per month,'' said Kurth.

"So we've more than doubled almost and we just need to be more organized and efficient and that's what we're hoping to accomplish,'' she said.

The work will be done in three phases. The work is being paid with donations, grants, reserves and loans.

The first phase includes replacement of the former wooden entrance with a covered, handicapped accessible concrete entrance, and purchase and installation of a walk-in cooler-freezer. Two fairly large donations over the past two years from Jennie-O Turkey Store of Willmar will be used to buy the cooler-freezer.

"We're very thankful for Jennie-O Turkey Store for making those donations,'' said Kurth.

The cooler-freezer will replace 10 freezers that range in size from 6-foot chest freezers to 2-door commercial standup freezers to a couple of household standup freezers and two 3-door refrigerators. Kurth says the arrangement is not very efficient.

The food shelf provides milk, margarine, eggs, yogurts, cheeses and miscellaneous refrigerated items from Cash Wise, Cub and Wal-Mart.

"We're very fortunate to have great partnerships with our local grocers, so we do get a lot of that in or more than sometimes what will fit in our refrigerator when we're trying to make sure we have milk and eggs for families,'' said Kurth. "The walk-in cooler-freezer will help provide more storage.''

The second phase will remodel the lobby area, the shopping area and the rear receiving and storage area, and add new lighting, air conditioning and heating. The area includes space formerly used by the United Way's Gift-In-Kind program that has moved to Harvest Community Church.

The third phase will finish the exterior, add insulation and siding.

Kurth said the project started with the need for a walk-in cooler-freezer and grew from there.

"For any of those that have come into the food shelf whether it's donations or through a tour or volunteering, they all know how tight we are,'' said Kurth. "The layout is unorganized and it's time to really change and improve that.''

Completion is anticipated by the end of next spring or beginning of summer.

"We'll be open for business the entire time,'' said Kurth. "We ask people to be patient and work with us through the first phase. That will probably be the toughest with people coming in and out the only door.''

Kurth also reminds area gardeners that the food shelf is accepting homegrown produce.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150