By Amy Rea

It was one of those most pleasant emails, an invite to a holiday coffee party from a friend — always a welcome thing to pop up in my inbox. But after the details of the invitation was this message:

“Please feel free to bring a friend, but not any hostess gifts. Instead, please consider bringing a manual can opener. Need an explanation? It’s hard to open the can of green beans you got at the food shelf if you don’t have a can opener, and equally hard to use your electric can opener if your power’s been turned off.”

The invitation came from a volunteer at Eden Prairie’s PROP Food Shelf and PROP Shop. Although I’ve donated to food shelves before, it never occurred to me that something like a manual can opener could be valued at a food shelf. I tweeted about that need and heard back from a friend in Chicago, whose local food shelf is requesting “kitchenless” food items: foods that don’t need refrigeration and can be eaten without cooking, such as pop-top cans of tuna.

It made me wonder what else was most needed, so I did a little digging around. Here’s what I learned from a random sampling of local food shelves. All accept food and cash donations, and keep in mind that many of these organizations can really make a dollar stretch far — they may be able to do more with $10 than you can at the grocery store.

Second Harvest Heartland said there’s no specific item they’re in greatest need of, but instead, need some of everything. A cash donation of $5 provides 18 meals. Another way to help would be to host your own Food & Fund Drive, which you could turn into a fun holiday gathering for friends and family while doing a tremendous amount of good.

St. Paul’s Neighborhood House has a wide variety of cultural and ethnic needs, as their clients are largely immigrant and refugee. When in doubt, consider donating cash, or call to find out specific needs.

The ICA Food Shelf in Minnetonka has a list of current needs on its site, including both food and non-food items, with emphasis on shelf-stable items.

CEAP, which serves people in all of Anoka County and parts of Hennepin County, also has a wish list on its website. CEAP has a food shelf specifically for homeless youth ages 12-21.

Keystone Community Services in St. Paul has a PDF listing its most-needed items, both food and personal care.

This is only a sampling of the many organizations around the Twin Cities — and the state — providing these services for people in need. You can find a more extensive list of Minnesota food shelf organizations at Hunger Solutions MN.

What else is happening in our state? Be sure to check out the 10 p.m. Sunday night WCCO newscasts, where you can learn more in the weekly segment, Finding Minnesota.

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