Second Harvest Heartland food bank planning to open Brooklyn Park headquarters

Second Harvest Heartland, a nonprofit food bank that provides perishable and non-perishable food items to food shelves, pantries and other food distribution programs, wants to locate its new headquarters in Brooklyn Park.
The food bank, which operates in 59 counties in Minnesota and western Wisconsin, has a purchase agreement for the a vacant building at 7101 Winnetka Ave. N.
While the organization intends to raise most of the $50 million in development and purchase costs for this building from private sources, on June 12 the Brooklyn Park City Council approved an application to Minnesota Management and Budget for $18 million in state bonds for fiscal year 2018, with the city acting as the fiscal agent. A local government agent is required to receive the bonds before they can be passed on to Second Harvest.
Currently, the organization has its headquarters in Maplewood with a second location in Golden Valley.
Second Harvest has been focusing on offering fresh, perishable foods rather than processed non-perishable foods that are more often seen at food shelves. The new facility would have larger refrigeration units that would allow more fresh food to be stored on-site before distribution to a food shelf.
“Our primary role is about collecting and distributing large amounts of food,” said Rob Zeaske, CEO of Second Harvest. “We exclusively serve food shelves, food pantries, homeless shelters and other meal programs that are really those agencies on the front line, serving our neighbors in need,” he said.
In 2008, approximately 20 percent of the food Heartland distributed was fresh, according to Zeaske. In 2016, 55 percent of the food they distributed was fresh, he said.
Approximately 35,000 people volunteered to help with Heartland’s efforts in 2016.
Workers at Second Harvest make no less than $15 per hour, Zeaske said.
Some council members expressed concern that Second Harvest could negatively impact Community Emergency Assistance Programs, a food shelf that has served Brooklyn Park, Brooklyn Center, and other neighboring communities since the 1970s.
“We’d love to have you in our community but not at the expense of our own food shelf,” said Councilmember Lisa Jacobson. “Without a really clear, strong partnership with Second Harvest, little nonprofits similar to the one I run get really scared when the big guys come to town, and you are the biggest,” she said.
Councilmembers Terry Parks and Bob Mata also expressed concerns for the impact on Community Emergency Assistance Programs.
“What you have to understand is CEAP is our family. They’re part of our family here in Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center. They do a lot of great things,” Parks said. “I wouldn’t vote for this if I knew that it was competition moving in to take over what they’re already doing.”
Both Mata and Parks said that they worried donations that would previously have gone to CEAP would end up going to Second Harvest, who would then end up selling those goods to CEAP, which would be counterproductive.
“We really tonight need your assurances that you’re going to work with CEAP, not just talk about it but work with them in order to make sure that they have continued success in dealing with our community,” Mata said.
Zeaske said Second Harvest would be open to discussing the possibility of a satellite location for Community Emergency Assistance Programs, and they will work not to harm the organization.
“We are not changing our relationship with a local partner in any way,” Zeaske said.
Councilmember Susan Pha said she was excited to hear that food shelves may have increased access to fresh produce.