Providing emergency food to hungry people

Joyce Uptown Food Shelf provides clients with a three-day supply of food once a month, helping them be a healthy part of the community

Uptown Food Shelf volunteer
Joyce Uptown Food Shelf director Rebecca Spence demonstrates how staff members and volunteers fill orders for clients. The food shelf serves about 33 families each day, providing them with about 21 pounds of food per person. Photo by Nate Gotlieb

Nearly 10 percent of households in Minnesota struggle to find enough food on any given week, according to the organization Feeding America.

food shelf in Uptown is working to reduce those figures.

The Joyce Uptown Food Shelf provides people in need with about three days worth of food once a month at no cost. 

The food shelf receives its products from the food banks Second Harvest Heartland and The Food Group, donations and a U.S. government surplus program

It has three part-time staff members but is otherwise run by volunteers.

“To be an active, healthy part of the community, you need to have a good amount of food,” director Rebecca Spence said. “What we do here is feed people so they can be that active, healthy part of the community.”

Joyce Uptown Food Shelf started in 1969 as a project of the Joyce United Methodist Church. The Lake Harriet United Methodist Church has continued the organization’s work since the Joyce churched closed in 2013.

The food shelf provides people in need with everything from milk, eggs and butter to chicken, olive oil and fruit. It also has household items such as toilet paper and pet food, of which households can take two per visit.

In addition, the food shelf distributes produce from the Soo Line Community Garden, which has a plot dedicated to the food shelf, bread from The Wedge Community Co-op and Lucia’s Restaurant, produce from Linden Hills Co-op and a variety of foods from Whole Foods Market.

The food shelf allows clients to visit once a month and provides them with 21 pounds of food per person on average, Spence said. It feeds about 33 families per day. In August, it served 17,928 pounds of food to 322 families or more than 900 individuals.

The food shelf also registers voters and provides a taxi service that clients can utilize once a year. 

Spence said language barriers could be a challenge when serving their clients, noting that many speak Spanish or Somali. One of the staff members does speak Spanish, however.

Staff members are constantly responding to requests from clients. Spence noted that she is working on getting peanut butter without added sugar after at least 12 clients requested it.

The food shelf is open from 1 to 3:45 p.m. Monday through Friday with extended hours on Thursday, thanks to the Minneapolis Uptown Rotary. The staff prefers that donations come between 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.

Board member Jim Koon said the food shelf’s proximity to uptown allows people from all over the city to access it. There aren’t other food shelves in the area, he noted, making the organization’s work all the more important.

“This is just trying to get families over the margin,” Spence said.

‘Struggling with making ends meet’

Tom O’Neill, director of individual major gifts at Second Harvest Heartland, said food insecurity can affect behavior and learning in kids and can increase the risk of chronic health conditions in seniors.

“When kids are hungry, when they don’t have enough food over a sustained period of time, they’re going to have issues with growing and just learning,” he said.

Hunger costs Minnesota $1.6 billion each year in health care, hospitalization, medication, education and other costs, according to a 2010 University of Minnesota study. It doesn’t just affect people in inner-city or rural areas, O’Neill said, adding that his organization has seen food insecurity levels stay steady, despite the improving economy.

“These people are still struggling with making ends meet,” he said. “They’re still having to make hard decision between: Do I pay for the heat, do I pay for the medication that I need or my kid needs, or do I put food on the table?

Food shelves such as the Joyce Uptown Food Shelf are helping people such as Brenda Gomez avoid those quandaries. Gomez came to the food shelf on a recent afternoon with her husband, their 2-year-old daughter and her husband’s grandma. She’s visited the food shelf each month since her cousin brought her a couple of years ago.

“Everything’s good,” she said of the food shelf, noting the organization’s good service.

An Uptown Rotary volunteer filled Gomez’s order while she and her family waited in the lobby. They were in and out in about 15 minutes with several boxes of nutritious food in tow.

We just feel that hunger is something that keeps people from being a complete partner in our community,” Spence said. We feel that if people are fed then their contribution to society is reflected.”

Basic Info:

Joyce Uptown Food Shelf

Location: 3041 Fremont Ave. S.

Contact: 825-4431


Year Founded: 1969

By the Numbers:

21 — Pounds of food per month Joyce Uptown Food Shelf distributes to each client on average.

33 — Approximate number of families it serves a day.

900 — Individuals served in August, nearly one-third of who were under age 18.

3,092 — Individuals in 1,121 families served in 2015

17,928 — Pounds of food distributed in August.

12.5 — Percent of Minnesota children who live at risk of hunger, according to Second Harvest Heartland.

What you can do:

Donate financially“Cash goes a lot further than food,” Spence said, noting that the food shelf staff can buy products cheaper in bulk. People can donate online or with a check.

VolunteerThe organization is looking in particular for people to pick up bread from The Wedge and Lucia’s and for a desk volunteer on Thursday nights.

Donate food or non-food items. Staff requests that people call ahead before dropping off donations.