Centered approach: New Main Street location brings collaborative effort together

Published 6:32 pm Monday, September 25, 2023

A newly opened location on Main Street in Austin has brought the collaborative spirit of three organizations together for the betterment of community.

On Monday afternoon, an open house was held for what is now the home for Austin Aspires, the Hometown Food Security Project and the Mower County Backpack program. Packed with people, it was the first opportunity to see what the collaborative connection between the three entities can bring to the community of Austin.

“We were presented with an opportunity to share space with two other entities in the community that address hunger and so this is a shared space,” said Austin Aspires Executive Director Jayne Gibson. “A collaborative space that brings Austin Aspires from the educational side, but it also brings in the Food Security Project and the Mower County Backpack Program. It really gives us an opportunity for scholars and families we work with to get multiple services at the same time.”

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For Austin Aspires, this space at 318 North Main Street, is a new location having moved over from its previous space in the US Bank Building. However, for the Hometown Food Project and Backpack program this is their first public location.

With work from the three groups often crossing over into each other’s lanes of assistance, the combination of space demonstrates a unity that fits in well with a growing and unifying mission.

“It’s our work,” said the Hometown Food Security Project’s Tammy Snee to those gathered at Monday’s event. “We definitely know that. We go into this work with a spirit of humility to serve the people who need it. We just want to be there for them. We want this to be a welcoming space.”

The Hometown Food Security Project is still relatively new in Austin and is in and of itself, a collaborative effort in Austin to bridge efforts to confront and alleviate food insecurity within the county.

While the location is one of the first tangible things for the community to experience, Hormel CEO, President and Chairman of the Board Jim Snee said it shouldn’t be the only thing people see.

“There’s been so much work in the planning stage, but there’s been so much work behind the scenes that is making a difference,” Snee said. “This is the first tangible thing the community will see, but I don’t want it to supersede all of the other great work that’s happening behind the scenes being done by a coalition. All of that is equally as important as this being that thing that the community will see.”

Gema Alvarado Guerrero, with the Hometown Food Security Project, said that one of the defining features of the new space is its location to every other resource in the community.

“Not only can we help individuals get other service support, we can stand outside and say Human Services is two blocks away, Salvation Army is two blocks away,” she said. “I love the location where we’re at.”

She added that in a lot of ways, the new location is simply an extension of help that’s already been offered.

“When folks come to us with food insecurity, it’s never just food insecurity,” Alvarado Guerrero said. “There are other dynamics that play into it as well. To really understand and meet people where they are at and other social service agencies to rally around them as well … oftentimes we’ve been helping people with Austin Aspires and it transfers to Hometown Food Security and the Backpack Program. To create that synergy between the three agencies is really humbling.”

The new space has already had a profound impact on people outside of the three groups. Schmidt Goodman Office Furniture Solutions in Rochester designed much of what people will see when they walk into this new space and came to the project through connections with Hormel Foods Corps.

They chose to both discount some aspects and donate other aspects because of the work being done.

“It’s incredible the amount of support they have here with the students they have in the schools, tutors and mentoring and staffing,” said President Kathy Schmidt. “It’s just an amazing effort … coming together to have these resources available for families in need.”

The new location will be a hub of further efforts to service the area and Gibson said that she hopes it’s a jumping off point for future endeavors.

“I think definitely we will have opportunities to scale,” she said. “We want to eventually include a possible food shelf. We want to expand the mentorship program that could possibly include some cooking ideas. We want to use this as a space to fill needs in the community as they are defined.”

The center will be open Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. or by appointment as needed.