MINNEAPOLIS, MN — When Ho Nguyen was offered the role of Director of Programs at The Food Group last March, it didn’t take long for her to accept the opportunity.
The Food Group was in the midst of a transformation toward centering equity in its work. Nguyen knew she could bring the experience and “know-how” to elevate that work, which started with nurturing existing and creating new partnerships with the communities they serve.
“As a majority white-led nonprofit, it’s important to work with various communities and have them tell us how they want us to show up,” Nguyen said, per The Food Group Website.
She also said that the murder of George Floyd last May solidified the need to pivot and center the community since it unearthed deep historical food insecurity that existed in urban Minneapolis.
That was the main reason why the summer of 2020 saw an uptick in donations which allowed The Food Group to give out close to $5 million in free food and created new partnerships with coalitions, organizations, and other collectives looking to distribute food.
The Food Group’s Agency team is working to cultivate those new partnerships. Among them is Maria Bonilla, who had worked with the Community Food Leadership Program, a program for people who had experienced food insecurity.
“The Food Group leveraged their privilege and helped the cohort members amplify their voices,” Bonilla said. “It was incredibly impactful because through that program I was able to make connections in the community that enabled me to work on a big project (I started a farmers market in my community),” she added.
Fun Fun Cheng, another Agency Relations Specialist, said that the Food Group lets them experience where they are in their journey towards equity. She and Bonilla view their roles at the organization as providing access to food through an equity lens. This means making sure they are offering culturally relevant food, while Cheng also said they make sure the people who need food are respectfully welcomed.
On the other hand, Georgi Nguyen, the Food Support Program Manager at Neighborhood house, said that everybody’s needs are different. So, those are their goals to ensure that the Food Support Program accommodates any need that the family has when they come.
Neighborhood House’s Food Support Program, which includes Francis Basket, has seen a 30% increase in families needing food since the pandemic started. Located on the West Side of St. Paul, the Neighborhood House serves primarily Southeast Asian and Latinx families. Stocking their shelves with culturally relevant foods is essential, and they’ve found that many of those items are available through The Food Group.
Also, finding cultural foods from The Food Group beneficial was the Community Action Center in Northfield. The Food Group also had a partnership with the Food Access Program to ease the access for culturally specific foods, per Food Access Program Manager Dawn Wegsheid.