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Gathering Growth and Feeding Families

Waconia’s food shelf; feeding families for 20 years and getting ready for 20 more

If you ask Angie Cruzen about Gather and Grow, Waconia United Food Shelf, be prepared for incredible stories of how food and hunger change lives in Carver County. As executive director, her excitement for creating an approachable place where shoppers, volunteers, and community advocates can gather and grow together is palpable, and it rubs off.

For two years, Cruzen has helped the community expand Gather and Grow’s service offerings. In addition to food support, the community of volunteers offers employment strategies, finances and budgeting, and nutrition basics classes as well as peer support specialists, mental health support groups, and even life coaching to community members needing support. “These were all grassroots and organically happened,” Cruzen explains, “it was just beautiful.” 

Cruzen loves sharing success stories. For example, “There was a woman who … came to shop with us. She was recently going through a divorce … [and] her girlfriends said, ‘You need to go shop at Gather and Grow. It’s okay, they will treat you great.’ She loved the experience and how she was treated, and she saw our signage about the employment strategies class. She hadn’t needed to renew her resume or seek a job because, in her marriage, she didn’t need to work. She went through our class and had an awesome resume and an awesome experience. [She] felt so much better about where she was in her stage of life because she had those additional resources. That’s exactly the person [we are here to serve].”

But even with the many success stories, Cruzen is cautious about the future for many of Waconia’s residents. Gather and Grow is reaching out to almost 350 families a month, and it looks like that number will continue to grow. She explains that during the pandemic, “there was a lot of help out there, so families didn’t need to rely on us as much.” Now “all of these programs are ending,” and we are facing “a hunger crisis.” Unfortunately, the timing is very poor for food shelves as getting food is becoming harder. Cruzen points out, “The supply chain is drastically impacted for everyone that walks into any grocery store. So there is less available for us to order. We are spending double or triple to order food.” She describes the uniqueness of the situation, “We’ve never lived in this.”

Still, Cruzen is hopeful. The pandemic strengthened Gather and Grow by forcing the organization to build a better network with executive directors of other non-profits. She is now leveraging those connections to help ensure they have everything their shoppers need. Cruzen loves our town, “The community of Waconia is crazy about having servant's hearts. When you put a need out there, you will get a response ten times what you thought.” And even though “Waconia is an affluent community, there is need out there. We have people that are struggling in our community.” But together, we can help.

If Cruzen’s excitement for our community has rubbed off on you, she invites everyone to come and see what Gather and Grow is all about. You can volunteer, host a food drive (she will provide easy-to-use kits), or if you are struggling, just “show up and shop.” Learn more by simply going to WaconiaFoodShelf.org.

  • Volunteer, donate or just "show up and shop"
  • Gather and Grow creates a welcoming atmosphere for their customers
  • Operations Coordinator Ashley Urbaniak and Executive Director Angie Cruzen