Forty-seven years have passed since Westonka Food Shelf first opened its doors. At the time, it was all about responding to a community need for more resources. Local churches banded together and discussed finding a permanent home for their resources. “At the time, Our Lady of the Lake [Catholic Church] had availability in its annex building and very graciously offered their location to house the food shelf with the full support of churches, schools and the community,” says director Shelly Sir. Westonka Food Shelf began receiving clothing and other household donations soon after it opened its doors at Our Lady of the Lake—and Pennywise Thrift Shop was founded.
Now, Westonka Food Shelf distributes approximately 30,000 pounds of food to patrons per month—and that number is expected to continue to rise. “We have found that there is a significant need in our community and in Minnesota. We have more and more seniors relying on our services, and about one-third of those we serve are children,” explains Michelle Repp, volunteer and board member.
In recent years, the annex structure that housed both Westonka Food Shelf and Pennywise Thrift Shop began to deteriorate beyond repair. “[The annex structure] had served its use and was getting to the point where we were going to have to close it down,” explains Fr. Tony O’Neill of Our Lady of the Lake. Knowing the importance of the food shelf and thrift shop, the parish community decided to invest in tearing down the old annex and building a new facility.
Thanks to the generosity of the entire community, led by Our Lady of the Lake parish, Grace Family Center was built without any residual debt and officially opened in November.
One patron says, “I understand many people wish to hide the fact that they need help … but I truly think that admitting to an issue is the first step to receiving a helping hand. A helping hand and so much more is certainly what my family and I have received over the past few years.”
Both Westonka Food Shelf and Pennywise Thrift Shop are run completely by volunteers. While the parish covers rent and utilities, every dollar that’s donated goes directly to helping neighbors in need.
According to Repp, now that Grace Family Center is up and running, the team is excited to focus more on health equity for all patrons. “We want to put a focus and emphasis on the food we procure and hopefully nudge our clients towards making good, nutritious choices,” Repp says.
Patrons “can feel welcome here,” Sir says. Repp agrees, adding, “It truly is a welcoming space where people can walk in with dignity and feel good about where they’re at. It’s a beautiful place to be.”