Connexus Energy ‘likes’ benefit local food shelves

Starting in late 2011 and following through into last year, Family Pathways Food Shelf in Cambridge, ACBC Food Shelf in Anoka and NACE Food Shelf in East Bethel, all received new walk in coolers and freezers courtesy of Connexus Energy.

Don Haller of Connexus Energy (from left), Annabelle Budde of NACE Food Shelf, Kathy Wills of Family Pathways, Jerri Loughry of ACBC Food Shelf and Sam Neral of Connexus celebrate the donations that came from the recent Facebook fund-raising campaign by Connexus. Photo by Rachel Kytonen

Don Haller of Connexus Energy (from left), Annabelle Budde of NACE Food Shelf, Kathy Wills of Family Pathways, Jerri Loughry of ACBC Food Shelf and Sam Neral of Connexus celebrate the donations that came from the recent Facebook fund-raising campaign by Connexus. Photo by Rachel Kytonen

Figuring out how to fill the fridge was the next step for Samantha Neral, communications and community relations specialist for Connexus.

The energy cooperative turned to its Facebook followers to make it happen.

The social media campaign, in which Connexus donated $1 to each of the food shelves for every Facebook like it received between Nov. 1 and Dec. 30, netted $1,822 for each of the organizations.

ACBC, NACE and Family Pathways all plan to use this most recent donation to purchase food through Second Harvest Heartland, the largest hunger relief organization in the Upper Midwest. Second Harvest essentially acts as a grocery store to Twin Cities area food shelves.

For every donated dollar, Second Harvest is able to stretch it into $8 in food.

Providing something that will help serve the community and improve energy efficiency proved to be a good fit for Connexus.

Don Haller, vice president of member services and community relations for Connexus, said they sat down and asked, “How do we truly make an impact for the community we serve?”

Connexus operates as a cooperative, paying back excess profits to its members, said Haller. Once members move out of the service area, under state law Connexus is required to continue paying those dividends for the next seven years. In the eighth year, the company can either forfeit the money to the state, or donate it to charity.

Connexus chose charity, which, in turn, creates an opportunity to support community causes.

The cost ranged from $30,000 to $40,000 for the coolers and freezers at each food shelf, depending on the electrical upgrades needed at each of the locations.

After having several months to a year to see the impact of the donated equipment, all three food shelf leaders agree it has changed how they serve those in need.

“I think Connexus Energy is the only energy company doing something like this,” said Kathy Wills, Basic Life Services Manager for Family Pathways. “We really needed this donation and it has allowed us to more property store items such as strawberries and blueberries to extend the shelf life.”

It has put all three food shelves in a position to accept much more fresh and frozen food, which can be stored longer.

“What I see is we are getting better at providing more nutritious options for our clients,” said Jerri Loughry, manager of the ACBC Food Shelf. This location serves those in need from Anoka, Andover, Ramsey, Coon Rapids and the surrounding area.

Rescued food from local retailers like Walmart, Target, Coburns and Kwik Trip mean food shelf clients are seeing a lot more fresh foods available. Rescued food are surplus items nearing their sell by date, but still perfectly good for consumption.

Second Harvest Heartland coordinates the delivery of rescued food to area food shelves. It also expands the choices from traditional staples like carrots and apples, which have a long shelf life.

“It puts us into a brand new level of delivery for our clients,” Wills said. “After the very generous donation of coolers, Connexus Energy really stayed in there and followed up with this on how things were going. I can honestly say they are the best partner we have ever had.”

All three food shelves continue to see growth in use month over month, although those increases have slowed out of the double digits—the norm when the recession was in full force.“You don’t have to reach out very far to find neighbors and relatives using the food shelves,” said Annabelle Budde, NACE facilities director.

Family Pathways Food Shelf in Cambridge can be reached at 763-552-3663.

Additional reporting by Mandy Moran Froemming, Anoka County Union

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