Our Lady of the Lake spearheads rebuilt community food shelf and thrift store

| December 1, 2016 | 0 Comments
From left, volunteers Sheri Gahl and Cinda Dorholt assemble a food order at Westonka Food Shelf in Mound Nov. 22. The food shelf is housed in the newly constructed Grace Family Center next door to Our Lady of the Lake in Mound. Gahl is a parishioner at OLL. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

From left, volunteers Sheri Gahl and Cinda Dorholt assemble a food order at Westonka Food Shelf in Mound Nov. 22. The food shelf is housed in the newly constructed Grace Family Center next door to Our Lady of the Lake in Mound. Gahl is a parishioner at OLL. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Mound resident Ken Trazes said he once cooked as a chef for an Au Bon Pain in downtown Minneapolis before a spinal disease curtailed his career.

Trazes, 47, depends on disability assistance, he said, but is still able to cook with top shelf ingredients with the help of Westonka Food Shelf. He makes a weekly trip to the pantry neighboring Our Lady of the Lake in Mound for not only the basic ingredients but also rare spices, he said.

“It’s like the Beverly Hills of Minnesota; you get all stocked goods from the good stores like Lunds and Byerlys and Kowalski’s,” Trazes said about the food shelf, which uses a food rescue program to obtain food from local stores.

Complementing its high quality food is a pristine new building, the Grace Family Center, a project OLL spearheaded. Opened in October, the center has a simple but store-like look with professional displays cases.

“We wanted it to be like they’re stepping into a real store,” said Father Tony O’Neill, OLL’s pastor. “Everything about the building, the fact that it’s a well-built and handsome building, it communicates to the person who walks in there that we think they’re worth that.”

Westonka Food Shelf and an adjoining store, Pennywise Thrift Shop, have a new beginning but a much longer history. Both apostolates have served the community for four decades with the help of OLL parishioners and volunteers from other churches.

“We wanted to send a message to the community that we support the community,” Father O’Neill said.

Westonka Food Shelf serves 250 families with more than 28,000 pounds of food per month. Patrons never have to pay for the food, which is weighed out according to household size. Sixty volunteers from around the community, including 15 OLL parishioners, keep the food shelf running six days per week.

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Judy Norling, right, a volunteer at PennyWise Thrift Store in Mound, rings up a purchase Nov. 22 for Leila Claudio, a local resident who also visited Westonka Food Shelf for groceries that day. Both are housed in the newly constructed Grace Family Center. Norling is a parishioner at Our Lady of the Lake in Mound. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Pennywise, run by the OLL Council of Catholic Women, sells clothes and household goods for as low as $1 per item. The revenue supports the parish and charities throughout the community and beyond.

A 5,400-square-foot building, the center has ample space for both apostolates along with a loading dock in the back for food and clothing donations.

“We have such a mix of income levels in this community,” said CCW president Carol Shukle. “We range from the very wealthy to really people who are quite poor. The cool thing is that in this community, those who have, give.”

Parishioners recognized the need to build a new facility as the original building, constructed in the 1930s, deteriorated. The parish had purchased the next-door building from Grace Baptist Church in 1978 and renamed it the Annex.

“It was falling to pieces,” Father O’Neill said. The situation prompted OLL and its community partners to explore what to do with the food shelf and how to make it happen.

OLL formed fundraising and building committees to replace the Annex, a projected $600,000 project. The parish moved the process forward six months early when a generous matching donor helped reach 75 percent of its fundraising goal in 2015. The old building was demolished in October 2015, and construction of the new center began last December.

“When we presented it to the parish, it was overwhelmingly accepted and supported,” Father O’Neill said.

The parish fully paid off the cost of the project through fundraising. Neither Westonka Food Shelf nor Pennywise pay rent.

Pennywise closed during the construction while the food shelf continued operations in OLL’s former youth room.

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Father Tony O’Neill, pastor of Our Lady of the Lake in Mound, stands outside Grace Family Center. He was instrumental in the recent construction of the building. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

“A lot of people were really excited it was going to open again, where they were waiting for it to open,” said Conshirel Maertz, 44, a low-income Mound resident who shops the thrift store and uses food shelf regularly.

Pennywise and Westonka Food Shelf hosted a grand opening Nov. 3 for the Grace Family Center, and Archbishop Bernard Hebda will dedicate the building Dec. 3 before a Mass at OLL.

“I feel like the Lord has really just blessed this community with this new building and the people that work in it and the people that donate here,” Maertz said.

Westonka Food Shelf volunteer director Shelly Sir, 50, said everything coming together after months of work and prayer confirms that “God wanted this.” Jesus’ words from Matthew 25, “for I was hungry and you gave me food … I was naked and you clothed me” were kept front and center in getting the message out about the project.

A local college student to painted those words on the Grace Family Center’s front entrance as a constant reminder to patrons and volunteers.

“We always used that,” said Sir, an OLL parishioner, of those verses. “People can relate to that as far as just a basic need. People need food, the kids need food, the elderly need food. It’s that little bitty piece that we can do for them.”

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