By Mikell Melius
It is 7 a.m. The Open Door van is warming up and Tom Loher is about to start his food rescue volunteer shift. Four days a week Tom fulfils this early morning shift. He arrives at the Eagan Pantry, some days the warehouse in Apple Valley, gets the cargo van ready, and kibitzes with staff and other volunteers. Around 7:15 a.m. he’s off to one of The Open Door’s partner grocery stores. The day I accompanied him we went to Cub Foods East on Diffley Road.
Tom has been volunteering with The Open Door for around nine years, and he’s not certain how he came across the organization. “It might have been through church,” he said. “But I’ve been volunteering here ever since.” Tom is a parishioner at Mary, Mother of the Church in Burnsville, another place he volunteers.
Once Tom and I arrived at Cub Foods East, it’s clear that he has been doing this a while. He knew everyone and had a set routine down. We entered through the back doors near the loading docks, where all food rescue volunteers go. He pointed out the designated spots for each food group: dairy, meat, produce, bread and non-perishables. Tom then loaded each food group individually onto a cart and out to the van.
“The amount of food seems to have dropped off,” Tom mentioned as he loaded the food into the van. “But the number of clients has seemed to increase.” He referred to the difference between pre COVID-19 food rescue and now. This is the biggest change Tom has noticed about food rescue since the pandemic.
Once all the food is loaded into the van, and we’ve said goodbye to everyone at Cub, it’s back to the Eagan Pantry. Each food group is carted into the pantry separately, weighed and documented. The refrigerated products are even temperature checked. This is something Tom finds important. “Quality is important to The Open Door,” Tom said mentioning that he thinks the attention-to-detail, and the extra steps to ensure freshness, is what sets The Open Door apart.
Food Rescue is not the only area of The Open Door’s operations that Tom volunteers for. He helps with traffic control on Tuesday nights at the Metcalf Pop-Up Distribution. He goes to four different senior living facilities every month to help with food distribution and attends multiple other mobile sites throughout the year. “I like to stay busy,” Tom said. “I’ve been getting up around 4 a.m. for most of my life. It’s just what I’m used to.”
When Tom is not volunteering with The Open Door, or with church, he enjoys fishing, spending time with his wife, Diane, his three children, and keeping up with his grandchildren. As for Tom’s favorite thing about The Open Door? It is the people by far.
“The volunteers and staff are just great. A lot of people have come and gone since I’ve started, but there are some that have been here the whole time I have. A good group. You can really BS with them.”
Thank you for everything you do, Tom. From the countless volunteer hours over the last nine years to braving Minnesota winter mornings for food rescue, we appreciate it all and could not complete our mission without you.
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