Sabathani’s ‘full service’ food shelf goes the extra mile

Kevin Sanders (Chris Juhn/MSR News)

It takes neither a clairvoyant nor a political scientist to predict the new U.S. President’s plans to make life as tough as he can for those working hard to make ends meet with a policy that reserves economic breaks for the rich and increases everyone else’s load. Accordingly, food shelves will be more vital than ever in helping families and individuals secure a basic necessity in life — having enough to eat.

That certainly includes Sabathani Community Center, Inc., one of the Twin Cities’ strongest resources, extending provisions to upwards of 18,000 households annually and last year distributing 1.3 million pounds of food. Catherine McCarthy, director of development, states, “Sabathani’s food shelf has changed over the past year in two main ways. It served about 10 percent more fresh produce per distribution than it did in 2015.

“Today we provide 10 percent more fresh fruits and vegetables per person, per visit,” she continues. “This is in large part due to the collaboration with Seward Coop donations and networking with other community grocers. We distributed about 44 percent more food in 2016 than we did in 2015 [and] served about 25 percent more clients.”

With times growing increasingly tougher, reliance on Sabathani has grown correspondingly greater. “Because there are more people using our food shelf, we have needed to purchase more food than in earlier years,” McCarthy says. “We take advantage of all Goodwill donations and network to increase donations, but even as donations increase, they do not increase at the same rate as our clients.

“Food purchases are expensive, and we have had to seek more funding to be able to feed area hungry families and individuals. At the same time, we have distributed about 50 percent more in single visits, which means our staff are busier and have to serve more clients.”

Kevin Sanders (Chris Juhn/MSR News)

Supervising the operation over the past eight years is Kevin Sanders, no stranger to helping those who need a hand up. In fact, he’s been engaged in such community outreach virtually all his life.

“I’ve been doing this kind of work with my mother since I was 10, going out in the public and taking care of people’s needs,” said Sanders. “Whether it be food, whether it be clothing, my mother raised me that way. I would go on missions with her.”

That was through church ministry, and the calling stayed with him when he was grown and on his own. “I did it out of my own house. When I was working with an organization, I was at home doing it. People would come by and we’d have bags of food lined up for them because they were hungry.”

So it’s not just a job, but an undertaking Sanders find rewarding, even personally fulfilling. “I found that this is a gift God has given me. I love people and I love helping to take care of their needs.

“When I see people, I don’t ask them why this happened or why that happened,” says Sanders. “I just want to help. When I interviewed [for this position] I let them know.”

His caring doesn’t end when it’s time to punch out and go home. In fact, he rarely puts in simply a full workday. He can be counted on to be there hours after his scheduled workload. “I’ll be here also volunteering my time.”

He underscores that it simply isn’t nine-to-five employment. People are up against trying circumstances whatever time of day it may be.

“When I go home, there is food on my table,” says Sanders. “Everybody can’t say that. My kids, you know what a bad day for them is? If they miss a snack. When I see other kids and they don’t have that [it] bothers me.”

Indeed, his children often come down to the center to pitch in. “Especially my son Isaiah. He comes a lot. I’m glad it’s been instilled in him to help meet the needs of others.”

For the family holidays, Thanksgiving and Christmas, Sanders saw to it Sabathani did a little more. He checked in with the director Cindy Booker as to whether there was sufficient funding and, getting a green light, distributed baskets with turkeys, trimmings and more to 300 families.

“We love doing that,” says Sanders. For those who can’t come in, he sees to it that help comes to them. “Our driver, Mr. Williams, does the seniors. We put together baskets for 12 households today — meat, canned goods, toiletries. He’ll stop, talk with them for a while, and get a good outreach with them.” Clearly, this endeavor isn’t just about giving handouts, but also offering a personal, human touch.

For good measure, this is, so to speak, an all-purpose resource. Along with putting food in people’s stomachs, Sabathani puts clothes on their backs and more: Sanders also serves as a forklift instructor and assists in forklift training and certification for warehouse and forklift work.

“When people come to the food shelf, it’s more than just a visit here. [They can receive] rental assistance, help with utilities. Whether that means seeing Hennepin County, whether the need is medical, we give full service.”

Before returning to his appointed rounds, Kevin Sanders stops to say, “I want readers to know we are still carrying the name of Miss Clarissa Walker’s clothing and Miss Clarissa Walker’s food shelf. We have [it] on a plaque.” Walker was the former longtime director of Sabathani’s “full service” food shelf. Clearly she’d be pleased to know someone like Sanders is continuing the work.


Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.


Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Sanders is responsible for instructing people on how to look for apartments. Sanders is a forklift certification instructor who assists with training and certifying men and women for warehouse and forklift work. The story has been corrected.

4 Comments on “Sabathani’s ‘full service’ food shelf goes the extra mile”

  1. Thank you for acknowledging my mother Clarissa Walker and her legacy at Sabathani Community Center. Mom was committed to serving the community. She often answered the phone, “how can I help” and meant every word.

    I remember one Thanksgiving day while mom was preparing our dinner there was a knock on the door. It was a young woman asking for help because she didn’t have food to feed her family. Mom immediately stopped cooking our dinner to take care of them, so I get it when you state this is not a nine to five position.

    I’m delighted to hear that the Sabathani’s food shelf program is still striving to support the community it serves. Best wishes to you Kevin Sanders, your heart appears to be in the right place for this much needed program.

    1. Feel free to thank Mr. Sanders who went out of his way to make sure she was mentioned. – dh

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