New facility to meet growing demand, replace aging sites

By Jane McClure

The Union Park District Council’s Land Use Committee voted unanimously on June 15 to support Keystone Community Services’ plan to build a new $5.8 million facility to replace aging food shelf sites in St. Paul’s Merriam Park and North End neighborhoods.

Earlier that day, the Metropolitan Council’s Community Development Committee recommended approval of a pre-development grant of $100,000 for Keystone’s project. That recommendation will go to the full Met Council for its consideration and then to the city of St. Paul to accept and disburse the money.

Keystone also is seeking $1.5 million in state funding to acquire property along University Avenue and do predesign work. The second phase of the project would be to construct the facility. Keystone reportedly is looking at a potential site with about 20,000 square feet of space near the Lexington Parkway light-rail station.

   

During a recent planning and community engagement process, Keystone officials have said the need for an improved food shelf site was heard over and over again. “Our two sites are bursting at the seams,” said Keystone president and CEO Mary McKeown.

Its food shelf at 1916 University Ave. is in a former retail store. It opened in the mid-1980s after moving from the Merriam Park Community Center. The one at Rice and Arlington streets occupies part of a former heating and air conditioning business. Both buildings are showing their age and lack private space to meet with clients. Neither food shelf can accommodate more than half a dozen volunteers at a time.

A new facility would allow Keystone to serve more than 43,000 people each year with food, emergency assistance and connections to other resources.

 

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Keystone operates the largest food distribution program in the East Metro area. Along with food shelves, it operates two Foodmobiles that stop at more than 30 high-demand locations.

In 2019, Keystone helped almost 12,000 low-income households with food shelf and crisis assistance support. That breaks down to the equivalent of 166,080 bags of groceries. It provided 27,000 people with food shelf support last year and 37,544 people overall through its facilities in the West Seventh and Merriam Park community centers and a bike shop on Selby Avenue.

A new facility would allow Keystone to serve more than 43,000 people each year with food, emergency assistance and connections to other resources.

On average, food shelf clients come in only three to four times a year when they run short of money, McKeown said. The pandemic and the loss of some food markets due to property damage and vandalism in late May has resulted in more demand for food in recent weeks.

Low-income adults across Minnesota also could lose their benefits as a result of changes to the 2020 Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. That is expected to create even more demand for food shelves.

Keystone is anticipating an increase in food shelf demand of 20-40 percent in 2020 and 2021. On June 12 it held a food package giveaway near Allianz Field. The food was gone very quickly, and traffic was backed up for miles around.

“We weren’t expecting that kind of outpouring of need,” McKeown said.

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