Going to the grocery store has become a bigger stressor than ever since the coronavirus outbreak, but for many, it’s financial hardships rather than the fear of getting sick that keep them from shopping.
Ever since stay at home orders began in Minnesota, Faribault Youth Investment Executive Director Becky Ford said her organization and others have reached out to residents to find out their needs. Obtaining food is a big one.
“We started hearing from community members, and particularly older youth ages 18 to 21, that they were having trouble accessing food at the time because they’re too old for the school-based program,” said Ford. “ … It became clear right away we had a bit of a gap in the community.”
For the past couple weeks, Faribault Youth Investment, Growing Up Healthy and nine other community partners and faith-based organizations have teamed up each Thursdays and Fridays for a free food box distribution at various pickup locations. The boxes, provided by Channel One Food Bank, contain nonperishable food items, enough to last one week for a family of four. Distributors themselves don’t have control over the contents of the boxes as they contain whatever local food shelves have in stock.
The contents of the boxes may not be culturally appealing to all, said Ford, so volunteers are in the process of collaborating with SNAP-Ed (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education) and Growing Up Healthy to learn which foods Somali and Latinx clients might prefer in their boxes.
“This is really an incredible effort to sort of lift up the conversation about food insecurity in our community,” said Ford. “I’m hopeful larger conversations will start because of this program.”
Rather than “reinventing the wheel,” Ford said she and other community partners wanted to instead expand upon the system Faribault Public School established when schools first closed in March. Where the Faribault school district has provided hot individual meals for breakfast and lunch during the week, the free food boxes contain uncooked ingredients for home meals. The community partners also added more sites to the distribution to reach as many corners of Faribault as possible, since transportation is a common barrier. Clients simply drive into the parking lot of the location nearest them, and volunteers load the vehicles with the packages.
Natalia Marchan, coordinator for Growing up Healthy, said she’s connected those without access to transportation with church volunteers willing to pick up their food boxes. So far, she said that process seems to be going well.
Anne Kirchberg of the Northfield Area Family YMCA, one of the community partners involved in the effort, said that although these boxes are intended for low-income families, volunteers won’t turn anyone away. Those who pick up food boxes self-verify their need and aren’t required to share their names, but volunteers do record totals to give Channel One a picture of the specific need in Faribault.
Hiawathaland Transit drivers deliver the packaged food boxes to the participating locations Thursdays and Fridays, and they also help with the distribution process. Hosanna Church in Northfield, Our Savior’s Lutheran Church and River Valley Church have offered donations, and an individual, School Board member Carolyn Treadway, started a Go Fund Me page (find it at bit.ly/2ymaSUj) to fundraise for the cause. Hosanna Church also donated dry food boxes to distribute at the next community pickup later this week.
Sandy Malecha, senior director of Northfield Healthy Community Initiative (HCI) said that the leading organizations have a limited the number of volunteers at each site to make sure their space is conducive to standing 6 feet apart, complying with social distancing protocols. Participating organizations base their protocols off those the Northfield Community Action Center food shelf and the Minnesota Department of Health already established. They also make sure volunteers have appropriate masks, gloves and other necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) for the distribution process.
The volunteer base for the distribution initially included community partners alone, said Kirchberg, but in the past couple weeks, these volunteers have branched out to individual community members. Several have even expressed interest in delivering boxes directly to homes, but community partners aren’t sure they have the necessary resources to follow through with that now.
If community members are interested in making donations, Kirchberg encourages them to donate to existing food shelves in the community and to local churches. Marchan said monetary donations are accepted online at northfieldhci.org/donate.
“We’re not thinking we can solve all the food resource issues in Faribault, but we want to really build upon the resources existing,” said Kirchberg. “People might not be able to live off our boxes alone, but we can direct them to the other resources available.”
Marchan added that if she receives a call from someone outside Faribault, inquiring if the free food boxes are “worth the drive,” she instead directs them to the Northfield Community Action Center since they have extended hours and more variety. Soon, she plans to add a “frequently asked questions” portion to the website. Check growinguphealthy.org/food for updates.