When beginning work at the PROP Food Shelf in 2008, Janet Palmer learned something new about her longtime community.
Eden Prairie is home to many big hearts. If their neighbors struggled, residents stepped up to help.
That eye-opener came while she saw People Reaching Out to People’s (PROP’s) founding principle of neighbors helping neighbors by donating time, food and money in action.
“I learned just how much the community supports PROP and all the other non-profits here,” said Palmer, an Eden Prairie resident for 30 years. “I lived here, but working full-time, I didn’t know all the organizations that were helping people. It still just amazes me.”
After serving as PROP’s executive director since February 2015, Palmer plans to retire at the end of the year. Before that, Palmer was PROP’s operations director from 2008-15. Her career background is in finance.
The PROP board hopes to have Palmer’s successor onboard by November, and she will help with the transition.
“I hit an age milestone, and it was a goal of mine to retire at this age,” said Palmer, who recently turned 60. “I was fortunate enough to be able to make it happen.”
Palmer said she is thankful to have played a part in helping PROP serve those in need.
Besides its food shelf, PROP offers an array of programs to help “people get back on their feet, regain control, and live a life where they can thrive,” according to its website. (The PROP Shop is a separate organization.)
“I feel fortunate that I got to lead the ship a bit,” she said. “There’s nothing special about me; it’s really the strength of the community around (PROP) and the organization itself.”
Growing PROP’s services
Looking back at her tenure, Palmer is proud of PROP’s ability to adapt and grow its services.
“We try to think from their perspective,” she said, referring to PROP’s clients. “How can we make our programs easier, more flexible, more welcoming? We’re always thinking about what else can we do? We’ve done a good job with staying within our mission, but also trying new things and growing our services to help our neighbors.”
Palmer admits the pandemic forced PROP to “change on a dime.” Food and financial services started being handled curbside.
“(Being deemed essential) we never closed our services,” she said. “We locked our doors, and we switched over to do everything by phone.”
PROP plans to reopen for on site shopping appointments on Oct. 11. Curbside remains for those who prefer it.
A hidden problem
Palmer said the need for PROP’s services in Eden Prairie is not always visible on the surface.
Yet, those served by PROP have grown over the years.
“It really can be challenging for people that live in the suburbs because the problem is hidden,” she said. “People are less willing to share their experience. It can be lonely because they often feel like there’s nobody like (them). And, it’s just not true.”
Palmer said PROP serves about 1,100 families each year.
“That’s been pretty steady, even through the pandemic,” she said. “We did not increase; we actually decreased a little bit. I think that says the federal government supports that were put in helped certain families. We spent a lot more money on the families in need that were coming to us. Their needs were just greater.”
Many people think PROP is just the food shelf. Not so, she said.
“We really help with homeless prevention,” she said. “Our whole thing is to be upstream and keep people in their homes. So that may be for paying rent; it might be paying for a car repair, child care, utilities.”
Judging from the smiles on the faces of PROP volunteers, Palmer said she would enjoy her new free time.
“I’m not too worried about keeping busy and finding enjoyable things because all I hear from the volunteers is how great it is,” she said.
She and her husband Greg will continue on their quest to visit every brewery in Minnesota. The idea behind the excursions was to see new places around the state.
“There are roughly 210 (breweries in Minnesota), and I think we have 30 more to go,” Palmer said. “So, we’re closing in on that.”
Palmer was diplomatic when asked if she had a favorite brewery. (One to check out, according to Palmer, is the Lake of the Woods Brewing Company way up north in Warroad, Minn.)
“It comes down to personal preferences,” she said. “We’re IPA drinkers, so there are certain breweries that we like, but it’s not to say that the other ones are not good for other people.”
Still, Palmer is sad to leave PROP.
“I work with not only a great staff and board of directors, but more than 100 weekly volunteers that I have become very close with,” she said. “Those relationships are meaningful.”