The Hometown Food Security Project has a new home, and it has company. Joined by Austin Aspires and representatives from the United Way of Mower County Backpack Program, the HFSP and its partners unveiled their office location with a grand-opening event Sept. 25 in Austin, Minn. Located at 318 N Main Street, the new downtown storefront promises to be a haven of helpful resources for the people of Mower County.
While the HFSP’s mission is to combat food insecurity in Mower County, the primary objective of Austin Aspires is to aid local students, cradle to career. To undertake both tasks simultaneously, a collaborative approach was required, a collective sharing of ideas and resources. That is exactly what this new office space represents.
“None of this happens alone. There’s not one person or one organization that can inspire the kind of change we want to see in our community,” said Jim Snee, chairman of the board, president and chief executive officer of Hormel Foods, one of the founding organizations of the HFSP. “As a company, we’ve been strong advocates and supporters of hunger-relief efforts, promoting food security and advancing education. This work is very necessary, and we are pleased to be able to support these efforts.”
The office is conveniently located, within walking distance of the Salvation Army, Mower County Health and Human Services and the Austin Farmers Market, among several other downtown establishments offering services.
“I can stand at the corner of our office and point to the housing authority, to the United Way. There are just so many resources downtown,” said Gema Alvarado-Guerrero, workforce wellness facilitator for Hormel Foods and a leading HFSP coalition member. “There is a huge benefit for us being in this space.”
The new office location will better connect community members in need to the resources that can help them. Food is available at the new location, of course, as are educational resources like tutoring and early childhood development. There are even hotspot checkouts available, with digital-equity coordinators stationed at the office multiple times per week to help people gain access to affordable connectivity.
The United Way of Mower County Backpack Program, also newly housed at 318 N Main Street, is another helpful resource available to local kids, particularly those most at risk of suffering from food insecurity. Currently available in five Mower County school districts, the program sends enrolled students home each weekend with a backpack full of food.
“Austin Aspires represents the educational component of our operation, but we know that scholars can’t learn if they’re hungry, if their bellies are rumbling,” said Jayne Gibson, executive director of Austin Aspires. “We are just so thrilled to have this beautiful space that allows families to access not only educational support, but also food support through our partnership with wonderful organizations like United Way of Mower County and the Hometown Food Security Project.”
Of the more than 100 invited guests to attend the grand opening, a dozen were local students, all of whom regularly engage with Austin Aspires high school navigators. Banyaan Omot, an Austin High School sophomore, was one of those students in attendance, and he believes the downtown location will make the lives of the coalition’s clientele easier.
“They help me with all kinds of stuff,” he said. “Whether it’s help with homework, clothes, stuff for school, it all makes a big difference. I think the new office is going to allow them to help a lot more people.”
“This is going to be a place where people know, ‘I can go there and maybe get some help,’” said Tammy Snee, Austin community advocate and leading member of the HFSP coalition. “As our mission progressed, we realized it would be beneficial to have a physical space. Now we have a brick-and-mortar building at the center of town. We’re very excited about what we can accomplish together as this new chapter of our mission unfolds.”
Appointments at the new location are available to be made from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday-Thursday.