Catching up with CROSS Food Shelf’s new director after six months on the job

by MINDY MATEUSZCZYK

SUN PRESS Newspapers

 

Six months ago, Liz Johnson stepped into the very busy role as executive director of CROSS Food Shelf. She replaced Char Lake, who for a long time, was the face of the food shelf. Johnson comes to CROSS armed with 17 years of experience working at PRISM in Golden Valley, where she served for 14 of those years as the executive director. PRISM is also a food shelf with a transportation service component. The past six months for Johnson has been filled with change and some surprises along the way.

Johnson, who has lived in Champlin for the past eleven years, has been most surprised and impressed by the volunteers at CROSS. From their caliber of work to their motivation and commitment, Johnson said they are the lifeblood of the organization.

“Char did a fantastic job bringing the community around CROSS,” Johnson said. “There’s this strong base of support.”

She said many volunteers are there working from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. putting in more than a full day’s work. They have been so vital, Johnson has been sure to include them in all the changes that have been taking shape at the organization.

“There have been a lot of changes to the facility, the program, the philosophy and our branding,
Johnson said. “This group of volunteers have been with this every step of  the way. They give their opinions, ideas and concerns but face it all with a ‘let’s do it, let’s go for it’ attitude. That’s extremely rare to get a whole force of 500 regular volunteers all moving forward together.”

One big physical change is the renovation the organization is undergoing. They recently received a grant that will allow them to make changes to the internal design and layout of the building to allow for more efficiency in servicing clients. Another big change is the rebranding including a new logo.

Program changes include charging 50 cents per pound for clothing. Johnson said this will allow them to manage the program a little better. She also said free vouchers will be offered for families in crisis and possibly during back to school times.

The food shelf is moving towards a choice model where families can select their own groceries.

“It’s more efficient and useful,” she said. “Since they can pick their own food, we know it will be used 100 percent. It is more impactful, saves funds and encourages more people to use the program.”

She said they were finding people seeking food assistance often times shied away from the pre-packaged bags of food because so many items they wouldn’t use due to allergies or other reasons would go to waste.

“People feel guilty taking that food then not being able to use it,” she explained. Under the choice model, that issue has been resolved.

CROSS is also working on more outreach programs and partnerships. This includes having an on site presence at Maple Hill Estates in Corcoran partnering with the Mobile Hope program. Another goal of Johnson’s is to have a satellite facility in Maple Grove someday. She said the stigma of asking for help is still a struggle for some people. Many of the clients that come to the Rogers facility are from Maple Grove and other surrounding communities. She believes a facility in Maple Grove may actually attract more people from Rogers who are in need.

One challenge Johnson sees facing the northwest suburbs is the matter of affordable transportation. She referred to an extraordinary effort it took to help a gentleman find public transportation from Rogers to the airport which required several hours of planning via phone with public transit employees and required the individual to begin his journey five hours before he needed to be at the airport. This is something she would like to see improve.

CROSS continues to participate in many of the same programs within the communities it serves.

“We want to be a good collaborative partner,” There are so many opportunities, it’s a matter of picking and zeroing in on what our families in need will benefit from.”

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