Nearly every day for the last 17 years, St. Paul Park resident Dan Bishop gets up early, makes his way down to Friends In Need Food Shelf and spends a few hours a week stocking shelves, cutting cardboard, unpacking donated goods and providing a listening ear to those who walk through the nonprofit’s doors.

A retiree and inventor who worked for 3M-Cottage Grove for nearly four decades, Bishop was honored at a banquet earlier this month for his dedication to serving others and was named St. Paul Park’s Volunteer of the Year.

Not one for attention, Bishop, who was humble and modest about his work at the food shelf, said the accolade came as a complete surprise.

“I thought I was just going to the dinner because I was one of many volunteers in the city,” he said. “I didn’t think I would walk out with an award.”

Friends make friends volunteer

Retirement can be a time to rest, relax and get rid of the alarm clock.

Instead of indulging in some well-earned time off, however, Bishop signed up for a volunteer gig that he said keeps him busy.

“It’s a good busy,” Bishop said. “It’s not really something I consider a job because I like it so much. I get to give back to others.”

After having a hand in the inventions of many 3M products still in use today - Scotch-Brite, a paint roller, among other household products - Bishop retired in 1991. His agenda only included spending time with his wife, Judith, and fishing. But after several years, he said he wanted to do more.

“I was happy to be retired but I was just a little bored,” he admitted.

Casually giving his time distributing bread at All Saints Lutheran Church in Cottage Grove, Bishop said it was his close friends, Ken and Carol Wenzel, who encouraged him to get involved at the Friends In Need Food Shelf.

“At that time there were only about four or five volunteers helping out Sue (Kainz),” Bishop said. Kainz was one of the founders of the food shelf. “She suggested that I give my body to the food shelf and become a regular volunteer.”

Once Bishop signed on to be a volunteer at the Friends In Need Food Shelf, he dove right into his duties, tackling any task he was given and was soon a well-known face around the establishment. Since then, he consistently gives several hours a week of his time.

On Mondays, Bishop and the day’s volunteers collect, log and sort the donated meat and produce that comes from the Target and Walmart stores in Cottage Grove. Tuesday mornings he helps unload a semi-full of food pallets from Second Harvest Heartland.

“We usually have a pretty good crew, sometimes up to 20 guys that help out,” Bishop said. “We usually work a half-day and get everything unloaded.”

It’s up with the sun on some Wednesdays as Bishop said he gets to the food shelf early to cut up cardboard and stock the shelves that he said are usually bare by mid-week. On Thursdays, he distributes bread at All Saints and Fridays he said he stops in to see if there is any catch-up work to do.

“I like to spend as much time there as I can,” he said. “We have to keep the place going.”

When Bishop isn’t performing his volunteer duties at the food shelf, he’s organizing a yearly event that rakes in thousands of pounds of food. For the last decade, he has organized the annual Boy Scout food drive, which collects canned goods from neighborhood porches.

Friends In Need Food Shelf Director Michelle Rageth, who nominated Bishop for the award, praised his efforts and said it was his idea to institute the scouting food drive.

“He had such a fantastic idea for this and we implemented it right away,” she said. “He was here before I started and through the years he’s had some really wonderful ideas to simplify things. He has been such a valuable volunteer.”

When Bishop isn’t helping at the food shelf, he continues to volunteer alongside All Saints parishioners distributing bread on Thursdays.

“I never expected I’d get this involved but there are people in need and it makes me feel good to know that I can help even a little bit,” Bishop said. “One thing I always tell people is to not be ashamed if you need to ask for help. If you need the food, come on down. We’re here to help.”

With just weeks until his 79th birthday, Bishop recently looked back on his almost two-decade long commitment to the food shelf with both pride and gratitude. He said he felt lucky to have the support and encouragement of both Kainz and Rageth. And for a birthday present, he simply asked for more volunteers.

“I don’t know what I’d do if I don’t have the food shelf to give my time at,” Bishop said. “I’m happy that I get to be part of this and hopefully I am able to help the people that need it the most.”