Updated: 10/22/2013 6:30 AM
Created: 10/21/2013 4:13 PM KSTP.com
By: Stephen Tellier
About 8,500 Minnesotans visit food shelves every day, and their numbers are growing every year. But one local food pantry has started limiting what's available on its shelves, in the name of nutrition.
Eagan & Lakeville Resource Centers is no longer distributing certain unhealthy foods, including soda, sugary drinks, candy, sweet baked goods like cakes and cookies, ramen noodles, chips and other salty bagged snacks, and canned pasta -- an unprecedented new policy.
The nonprofit declined to speak on camera about the policy, but gave 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS a statement, which reads in part, "Healthy food policies are positive movement toward food justice and health equity in the hunger relief industry. Our healthy food policy doesn't just speak to foods that we will or will not distribute to clients. It's an organizational wide commitment to healthy foods on our shelves, at community events and in volunteer or staff meetings. It's about making the healthy choice the easy choice - for everyone across our organization."
It also said unhealthy food it receives isn't thrown out, but is passed on to another hunger relief agency.
"I think that she's trying to do the best for the consumers of her services," said Susan Russell Freeman, executive director of Volunteers Enlisted to Assist People (VEAP), the largest food shelf in the state.
"People may have reacted that we don't need food, which is not true," Russell Freeman said.
She said don't confuse an emphasis on healthy foods with a wealth of food.
"We always need more food. We are trying to serve between 7,000 and 8,000 individuals a month," Russell Freeman said.
VEAP doesn't limit choices, and stocks plenty of sweet treats.
"This is all for people to have family celebrations," Russell Freeman said.
But she said VEAP is driving folks toward choosing more nutritional value voluntarily.
"We will market healthy foods. We will educate people on how to use them," Russell Freeman said.
VEAP will also open a new, much larger service center in January, where it can even repurpose and reuse spoiled foods.
"We want to save food. We don't want to throw food out," Russell Freeman said.
Rob Zeaske, CEO of Second Harvest Heartland, which partners with Eagan & Lakeville Resource Centers and many food shelves like it, said generally speaking, no one wants food shelves to be the food police. But he said there's a lot of experimentation going on in the field right now, as many food shelves struggle to find a balance between accepting and giving out all the food it can find, and making sure food shelves aren't adding to the many serious health issues our communities are facing.