When COVID-19 hit and people in St. Paul's Frogtown and Rondo neighborhoods wanted to help others, they dropped food off at Delinia Parris' porch. They knew that Parris, a longtime organizer who has known hunger, would get it to those who needed it most and trusted she would know best how to feed them.
Now, Parris is executive director of Feeding the Dream, where neighbors can pick up food they need, no questions asked.
"To me, the dream is that nobody is hungry. Not just no child is hungry, but no parent is hungry," she said.
With Black and Latino Minnesotans facing hunger at several times the rate of white Minnesotans as recently as 2020, Twin Cities-based Second Harvest Heartland hosted a panel discussion Thursday on the state's racial hunger divide in south Minneapolis.
Besides Parris, panelists at Sabathani Community Center included Second Harvest CEO Allison O'Toole; Deisy DeLeon Esqueda, manager of ECHO Food Shelf in Mankato; Diane Tran, executive director of M Health Fairview Community Health Equity and Engagement System; and Stacy Hammer, community health director of the Lower Sioux Health Care Center in Morton, Minn.
Second Harvest saw its hungriest summer ever this year. Rising food costs, supply chain issues and wages that haven't kept up with inflation contributed to the unprecedented need, O'Toole said. The demand for food in September was even higher than at the height of the pandemic, she said.
About 9% of Minnesotans live in poverty, which is defined as an income of up to $26,000 for a family of two adults and two children, according to 2019 American Community Survey estimates. Poverty rates in Minnesota are higher in communities of color; 31% of American Indians and 29% of Black Minnesotans are considered impoverished.
Panel members shared strategies on how they have addressed the racial hunger gap in their own communities. In Mankato, Esqueda said, stocking food shelves with culturally specific foods has made a difference.
The region is becoming more diverse, and about 50% of food shelf clients are people of color, said Esqueda. Putting money aside for items like maseca corn flower, siracha, soy sauce or cactus has been important to clients.
"To me, ending food insecurity or reducing that rate, it's not just providing someone a box of groceries and saying, 'Here's your food, you're good to go.' It's providing them with food that they're actually going to consume," Esqueda said.
The shift to making more culturally specific food available is part of Second Harvest's $13.2 million effort to address the hunger divide, O'Toole said.
Looking forward, panel members said they hope to continue to be at the table when brainstorming ways to bridge the racial hunger divide in Minnesota. The work can be challenging, and Parris said that at times the funds to feed others have come out of her own pocket.
It's a challenge — she's also raising her grandchildren — but her desire to help others without shame matters more.
"It keeps me safe, it keeps me grounded, it keeps me connected," Parris said. "It's for all of us."