The Open Door Pantry: How community support helps a local nonprofit feed the hungry

On a warm Friday morning in September, a van pulls up at Apple Valley Villa, a tidy, landscaped senior apartment complex in the Twin Cities suburbs. Two people roll up the back hatch, and they wheel out stacked containers of food: tomatoes, lettuce, potatoes, strawberries, eggs, milk, chicken, bacon, pork chops.

Nothing unusual. Looks like an ordinary delivery — you might think the food would be unpacked and put away in an industrial kitchen and prepared for mass meals.

But that’s not what’s happening at all.

The people unloading the food are volunteers from a local hunger relief organization, Open Door Pantry. Inside, these volunteers unstack boxes, and arrange them on long tables in a common area near the back entrance of the complex.

Before long, some of the residents who live in the building enter the room. Most are pushing hand carts, but they’re all choosing groceries they can take right upstairs to their apartments and put in the fridge. And it feels pretty close to something ordinary and normal — almost like a trip to the grocery store, with items from all four food groups to choose from.

To Carol Wirsbinski, it was far from an ordinary day of delivery for Open Door Pantry. Today, says the board member of the nonprofit, is a game changer for its Mobile Pantry Program. This day was the maiden voyage of their brand-new truck, thanks to support from Minnwest Bank. This vehicle makes it easier to bring food to clients with mobility and transportation needs, she says. It also lets them serve even more households.

Open Door Pantry’s health-centered mission

Open Door Pantry has been around since 2009 and it wasn’t long before the nonprofit stood out for its nontraditional approach to feeding the hungry. They believe everyone deserves access to healthy foods. Rather than sticking to a strict list of nonperishable items, clients of Open Door Pantry actually take home boxes filled with fresh fruits and veggies, as well as other food that belongs in the fridge, like fresh eggs, fresh cheese and fresh meats.

Bottom line: “They’re looking for healthy food,” Wirsbinski says. “We know we are what we eat. This helps everyone get to a healthier place.”

Using fresh thinking and innovation to feed the hungry

Since launching, The Open Door Pantry has come up with other innovative ways to feed the hungry with fresh produce. Its Garden to Table Program provides clients with garden plots, seeds and equipment so they can cultivate their own food. In 2014, the nonprofit launched its Mobile Pantry program, so it could serve its less mobile clients.

But it wasn’t long before they saw an opportunity to improve the Mobile Pantry program. In fact, Wirsbinski recalls that just a few months ago, Apple Valley Villa asked if Open Door’s Mobile Pantry could come to their facility. At the time, it wasn’t feasible. “Because it would have taken three times the man hours we had in order to serve this amount of people,” Wirsbinski says.

Then, The Mobile Pantry could comfortably serve no more than 20 households in a site visit, she added. Today, the new truck lets them serve up to 70 families at a stop. “Because of the gift from Minnwest, we were able to come out to this site,” Wirsbinski says.

In addition, the new truck allows Open Door Pantry to improve its Mobile Pantry setup. Residents no longer have to step outside and wait their turn to board a vehicle. The new truck is fully equipped with carts, straps and a ramp for easy loading and unloading. This makes it possible for a pair of volunteers to quickly unload the truck with ease. In a very short time, they can have the Mobile Pantry set up in an indoor location, ready for clients to browse and choose their items.

“This is innovative and different,” she says. “The new van will allow us to use those volunteers much more efficiently. And our volunteers can be in front of clients instead of doing the heavy lifting.”

As she said earlier, this is a game changer.

Best of all, the residents could get their fill of the healthy foods with a sense of dignity and pride.

Building communities through partnerships

In past years, Minnwest Bank has partnered with Open Door Pantry by collecting and matching donations. But according to Dan Burns, a commercial banker at Minnwest Bank’s Eagan location, the community lender was seeking an opportunity to help a local organization “improve their mission and reach more people.” After learning about Open Door Pantry’s hopes of upgrading its fleet to better serve clients, Burns was on board.

Burns and Wirsbinski agree this gift was an example of how the community banking approach can make a big impact locally.

“I feel like community banks and nonprofits share a lot of the same goals,” Burns said. “They want to make the community a better place for everybody and try to do what they can to accomplish that goal.”

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

Related Posts