The Open Door has a simple premise. Income should not be a barrier to accessing healthy foods. That’s how they’ve operated since 2009. Which is why 60-70% of the food they distribute features fresh fare, like dairy, eggs, meats and produce — items not typically included in food relief.

However, when the Dakota County nonprofit opened its new and reimagined on-site food pantry in early 2023, it was clear organizers had taken their offerings to the next level.

The new space in Eagan is double the size of its previous location, allowing The Open Door to offer more of everything. More square footage of warehouse space complete with a spacious walk-in cooler. There’s a break room for volunteers. And the public distribution area has all the trappings of a family-owned neighborhood market.

This is not a place where you stand in line to collect a cardboard box. Clients can grab a shopping cart and browse from baskets of colorful produce, racks of bread loaves and buns, neat rows of milk, eggs and yogurt and cellophane-wrapped bundles of beef, chicken and pork — all of which are lovingly arranged by volunteers.

“It’s a vibe,” says Executive Director Jason Viana. “The number one thing people say when they come in is, ‘Oh wow, this feels like a grocery store,’ which is what it's supposed to.”

This reflects The Open Door’s focus on health, dignity and choice, to elevate the experience to something that feels welcoming and normal.

Walk-in cooler donation is a “game changer” for The Open Door

One significant element of The Open Door's new site is its spacious walk-in cooler. One side provides client access to perishable foods, while allowing volunteers to replenish stock without disrupting the shopping experience. The cooler boasts enough square footage to store up to four pallets of food supplies. This essential piece of equipment was made possible thanks to a $57,000 gift from longtime supporter Minnwest Bank.

Viana says the cooler not only enhances the shopping experience for clients, but it expands the organization’s inventory space so it can better support both the pantry and the organization’s Mobile Pantry outreach.

“Because of that, we’ve been able to take in more appointments,” Viana says.

In November 2022, the organization accepted up to 290 weekly appointments. Today, they’re taking 416.

Why is food relief significant in a suburban area like Dakota County?

People don’t realize it, but some 80,000 residents in one of Minnesota’s most populous counties cannot afford to make ends meet, based on wages, access to affordable housing and other factors.

“In the suburbs, there aren’t great transportation options for folks that struggle,” Viana says. “Also, there’s not a lot of infrastructure to support poverty.”

Unlike urban areas, like Minneapolis and St. Paul, there aren’t as many organizations in Eagan and other suburbs that relieve hunger and provide support. Add a lack of convenient public transportation, and poverty in the suburbs can mean isolation for the elderly and the people with young families. Particularly in places like Farmington, which is considered a food desert after the closure of its remaining grocery store a few years ago.

The Open Door eliminates that barrier by operating the state’s largest mobile food program, The Mobile Pantry. Equipped with a refrigerated truck, they set up 30 pop-up markets a month at various senior housing centers and apartment complexes around Dakota County, bringing fresh food close to home to those who would otherwise struggle to access it.

We live here, too: Elevating community through the power of partnership

There’s room at the table for anyone who wants to join the cause to fight hunger. Viana says people can choose to focus on one of three core areas: volunteering, funds or awareness. Monetary donations are always helpful. The Open Door offers convenient shifts of two- to three-hour blocks for those who want to give their time.

“Hunger doesn't always look like the caricature of a cardboard sign on a street corner,” Viana says. “Hunger exists in our communities every single day, whether it’s a neighbor who lost a job and is coming up on a bunch of bills or a senior citizen living on a fixed income and trying to stretch their dollars with rising grocery prices.”

For more than a decade, Minnwest Bank has been a steadfast supporter of The Open Door, hosting food drives at its south metro branches, taking volunteering shifts and matching donations. It’s a natural choice for us because community is core to our mission. “We live here too” isn’t just a slogan. It’s a genuine expression of our desire to shape where we live.

To learn more about The Open Door, and how you can help with their mission to provide fresh food to people in need, visit

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