Solutions Blog

COVID-19 Information for Food Shelves

Person's hand reaches to put a can of green beans on a shelf with other green beans on a shelf. The cans all have labels from different brands, suggesting they were donated to the food shelf rather than purchased like in a store.

The COVID-19 pandemic that is ramping up in the U.S. is concerning for all of us. There is a lot we don’t know yet, but it is best to be prepared in case the disease accelerates here. Food shelves are a vital resource for the people they serve and we want to do what we can to make sure you are able to stay open and continue to be a lifeline for people who struggle with hunger in your communities.

There is little doubt that COVID-19 will affect some food shelf operations. Now is the time to develop plans to minimize the risk to you, your employees and volunteers, and the people you serve. Let’s plan for the worst and hope for the best.

We will be updating this page with tips and ideas from food shelves across the state as we all work to minimize the risk of infection while continuing to serve our neighbors to the best of our ability.

Update 4/6/2020

NEW! TEFAP Eligibility forms with new income limits.

Update 4/2/2020

Updated info on state emergency funding from DHS & Hunger Solutions

Update 3/30/2020

A few resources that may be helpful for food shelves this week:

Resources Master Document
Our SNAP-Ed partners at U of M Extension have been putting together a massive document with links and resources that could be really helpful to food shelves. Check it out, and if you know useful info and resources to share with your fellow food shelves, let us know!

As part of this collection of resources, we are also collecting offers of help, equipment, and transportation/delivery resources that we have received at Hunger Solutions. Be sure to check it out and reach out to the contacts listed if they have something you need. We will be updating it as we hear of resources, so check back as your needs change.

Also, check out our email to food shelves with updates. Didn’t get the email? Contact Jill at and she will get you added to the list.

Community Action Center samples
The Community Action Center of Northfield shared a couple of sample documents with us on guidelines for illness and their approach to staffing during the pandemic. There is some really good stuff there, so check it out for ideas on how to adapt to our changing circumstances.

Update 3/25/2020

Governor Tim Walz has issued a shelter in place order for Minnesota, effective Friday, March 27. Food shelves and food banks are considered essential services and are allowed to remain open to serve their communities in this time of crisis.

For more information on how the shelter in place order with impact Minnesotans and what services are affected, see the Governor’s FAQs on COVID-19 and #StayHomeMN

Update 3/24/2020

We’ve asked food shelves to change how they deliver services very quickly to maintain safety. Last week, we visited Christian Cupboard Food Shelf to share with us what their new drive through model looks like, what they want volunteers to know, and what they need from their communities. 

Here’s what they had to say: 
What the new model looks like 

What volunteers need to know about COVID-19 at the food shelf

What food shelves need from their communities

Christian Cupboard has also shared their plan documents as a sample to help food shelves start moving to a pre-packed, drive-thru distribution.

Food shelves: What do you need to know? How is the new model working for you? Got an idea to share with your fellow food shelves? Let us know!

Update 3/23/2020

Update 3/17/2020:

COVID-19 Updates and Resources

Information and resources on TEFAP eligibility and intake for food shelves from OEO.

Stop the spread of COVID-19

As always, we recommend that people stay home when sick, cover their cough, and practice good hand hygiene. Take the same precautions recommended for avoiding colds and flu:

1.       Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds to make sure the soap has time to work and you get all of the parts of your hands.

2.       Stay home when you are sick.

3.       Cover your cough.

Staying home when sick is a fundamental “stop the spread” tip that can be particularly difficult to follow, either because people have no sick leave or feel otherwise compelled to show up and tough it out. Encourage your staff and especially your volunteers to stay home when they are unwell.

One sick employee or volunteer staying home may be an inconvenience, but an entire team of sick employees and volunteers can become a far greater problem for the entire food shelf and the community.

In addition to maintaining good personal hygiene habits, think about setting up stepped up cleaning and disinfecting procedures in your food shelf. Wipe down surfaces regularly with a disinfectant and concentrate on surfaces people constantly touch – think light switches, fridge and freezer handles, shopping cart handles, etc. – that may not already be part of your cleaning protocols.

Trusted sources

There is a lot of information (and misinformation) about COVID-19 in the community, so it’s important for food shelves to look to authoritative resources for the correct information.

Minnesota Department of Health

The state has a page on their website with the latest info on COVID-19 in Minnesota:

They also have a lot of great handouts and fliers in multiple languages available on their site. Consider printing a posting these in your food shelf.

If you have questions about COVID-19 that you haven’t seen answered elsewhere? Call the MDH Hotline at 651-201-3920.


For the best information on COVID-19 nationally, the CDC is the best authority. They have lots of resources available including recommendations for community organizations that are worth checking out as you make contingency plans.

While COVID-19 is not widespread here yet, it has severely impacted several communities across the country. Their recommendations for other towns may have good advice for planning in your food shelf and community.

Start planning for the long term

While we don’t know if or when COVID-19 is going to have a widespread affect on Minnesota, it is really important to have contingency plans in place to keep food shelves operating as smoothly as possible. Here are some things to think about:

1.)     Have a backup plan for when employees and volunteers are sick

It’s good to have a plan for when your regular volunteers aren’t available because they are either sick themselves or are self-quarantining at home.  Also, we know a lot of food shelves core volunteers are older adults who are at greater risk should they get sick. Don’t guilt your volunteers if they chose to self-quarantine and protect themselves from a potentially life-threatening infection.

2.)    Consider bringing back appointment-based systems or be on-call for emergencies only

Lots of food shelves have moved to open hours systems and no longer take appointments. It’s a good time to think about having a back up by-appointment-only system that minimizes the number of people in the food shelf or in a waiting area at one time should COVID-19 become widespread in your area.

3.)    Pre-pack food and maintaining social distance

In the same vein as going appointment-only, think about ways to minimize the number of volunteers and staff needed by thinking about more pre-packed boxes of food. And think about ways to set up your space so that people maintain at least 6 feet of distance between them to minimize their close interactions and stop the spread of the virus.

4.)    There is lots of food available, use it!

We have a lot of TEFAP available in Minnesota, so think about ways to order and distribute more food. Help the individuals and families you serve prepare to be isolated by giving out extra supplies now and help stop the spread of the virus in your community.

5.)    Update your hours

If you do have to close your food shelf or alter your hours, be sure you update us at Hunger Solutions and at your food bank. Make sure the public knows about your updated hours by updating your outgoing voicemail message with the new hours and be sure to update your websites and social media. It’s also good to have a notice ready for your front door that includes an emergency contact number should you have to abruptly close the food shelf due to illness.

Avoid discrimination against Americans of Asian descent

It is important to remember that people – including those of Asian descent – who do not live in or have not recently been in an area with COVID-19, or have not been in contact with a person who is a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19 are not at greater risk of spreading the virus than any other Americans. As leaders in our communities, it’s important to not only not discriminate against people of Asian descent ourselves, but that also speak out against stigmatizing behaviors when we see them.

We’re working with the state and food banks and talking about contingencies on food supply at the food banks. Rest assured, we’re all preparing for worst case scenarios and we will keep you posted when we know more.

If you have questions or need more information, your best resource is your food bank. We also encourage you to reach out to your neighboring food shelves to see what they are doing and talk about ideas. We’re all in this together and we will get through this as a food shelf community.

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