In August, Brooklyn Mosaic United Methodist Church opened a food shelf just for homeless teenagers.
“The schools (in our area) were the first to see the problem, and they began sounding the alarm,” said Rev. Rachel Morey, the pastor at Mosaic.
The church looked at data from three school districts: Anoka-Hennepin, Brooklyn Center and Osseo-Maple Grove. In Osseo-Maple Grove, the school district saw a jump from 128 homeless K-12 students in the 2007-2008 school year to more than 300 in 2010-2011.
“The youth food shelf was opened because family food shelves typically have a relatively intense intake process, and often require a Minnesota state identification card,” Morey said in an email. “Homeless young people are less likely to have state ID and so are unable to access those resources.”
The No Hassles Youth Food Shelf is located between Brooklyn Junior High and Park Center Senior High School, which makes it an easily accessible for teens, Morey said.
With the rise of teen homelessness in their area, four non-profit organizations joined together to found the No Hassles Food Shelf:
There are other food shelves that serve youth, like the Groveland Food Shelf, but Morey said her congregation wanted to open a food shelf in Brooklyn Park for teens who don’t have transportation to get to those other places. Four organizations partnered to start the No Hassles Youth Food Shelf. See info box for more information about the food shelf partners.
The food shelf has a policy of “no hassles,” which means teens don’t need to demonstrate need in order to get food. “The more questions teens are asked, the less likely they will be to seek assistance,” Morey said.
The food shelf is open on Wednesdays and Fridays from 3-6 p.m. and serves ages 13- to 21-years-old. Since opening, about 45 to 60 youth visit the food shelf each week, Morey said.
Teens are allowed to take up to 50 pounds of food each week, but no one has reached this limit yet. The most popular items are flour, sugar, oil, and rice. The shelf also offers things like canned foods, cereals, and pasta, hygiene items and clothing.
“The first night we were open, one young person remarked how glad he was to see that we had contact solution in stock that evening – he had been storing his contact lenses in water,” Morey said.
If a teen asks for help finding a place to stay, or with other things, staff at the food shelf will try and direct them to the right places. “Trust takes time to build,” the pastor said.
Teens are shy at first, but now Morey knows some of the teens on a first-name basis and even saves food, baby powder, and diapers for a young mother who uses the shelf weekly for herself and her 10-month-old baby.
“Particularly troubling are the challenges faced by teen moms who do not have shelter and are scrambling to provide both for themselves and infant children,” the pastor said.
Right: Besides food, No Hassles also offers hygiene items and clothing, as well as referrals to other help.
Many youth come with friends from the junior and high schools nearby. The kids mingle and are creating a community of friends, she said. They can do homework, hang out, help out and just be teens. “We try to make it friendly by playing music and bringing snacks to make it less institutional,” Morey said.
So far the shelf has received donations from many different people and groups, from members of the church up to big corporations like Cub Foods.
The Wilder Foundation, a local nonprofit that tracks homelessness in Minnesota, estimates there could be as many as 2,000 minors without a place to stay on any given night.
Morey hopes that the shelf can continue to serve teens in need. She also asked teens never to make fun of classmates who may look like they’re homeless. Many teens live difficult lives. Don’t make it tougher for them, she said.
Morey prays and “looks forward to the day [food shelves] become obsolete.”