Joyce House on the quiet corner of 31st and Fremont was purchased by the Methodist Church across the street in 1968. It’s a little house that has reliably been a saving grace to hundreds and even sometimes thousands of Uptown residents for over 40 years.
During the early years, it housed a coffee shop, a thrift shop, an organization that served meals to senior citizens, a Sunday school and a playroom for the nursery school. Some time in 1970 the need for food became apparent to the community and Joyce House finally settled down into a bilateral mission that still serves as transitional housing for a homeless family upstairs with the Joyce Uptown Emergency Foodshelf in the basement.
With borders from 25th street to 62nd street, and France Avenue to 35W, the population it serves is extremely polarized economically, and includes both the wealthiest as well as the most impoverished citizens in the Minneapolis area.
The pamphlets handed out by the administrative staff lay testament to the humility and purpose behind their mission — with the obviously homemade desktop graphics and the plain paper they are printed on bearing witness to the true goal of the organization: to feed the hungry.
According to Becky Bellefeuille, the spunky assistant director, “All fundraising is done by volunteers with no administrative costs.”
“That’s a really important thing to point out,” chimes in Jean McGrath, who has been the director for 25 years, “it means that 100% of donations go directly to the foodshelf, and that’s very unique.”
When asked about how the current economic climate has affected the organization, the women didn’t skip a beat, instantly calling to mind several ways in which the foodshelf has recently suffered: people who used to be faithful donors are now unable to give the same monetary contributions, and there don’t seem to be many new contributors; food bank purchases are only 20 cents per pound, but with donations waning, they have had to dip into slim financial reserves; and most alarmingly, many past donors are now becoming clients.
In some very touching quotes from clients an elderly woman once said “I couldn’t make it through the month without you,” a new client on a Monday said “I haven’t had any food since last Friday, bless you,” and a person giving a $100 check said “When my family needed help last fall, you gave it. Now I just want to return the favor.”
But perhaps the director herself, said it best when she pointed out that they “give food to an average of 1,400 people a month, many of them children and seniors.”
Allison Zank is an author, volunteer and CARAG resident and sits on the board of directors for the Joyce Food Shelf.