Food isn’t just something that fills our bellies. It’s health. It’s community. It’s culture. And when it’s not accessible to everyone, all three areas suffer.
Everyone knows fresh fruits and vegetables are essential components to a healthy diet—but they’re not accessible to everyone, especially in communities lacking a food shelf.
Lynn Thompson is a longtime member of the Frogtown community and a volunteer with St. Stephanus Church.
“I think that there’s this idea in middle-class America that everyone has access to and can afford the food in grocery stores,” she said. “We don't realize what a privilege it is to be go into a store and pick out whatever we want, load it into our car and go home.”
For families on a tight budget, transportation and cost can be barriers to healthy food, and fresh produce often gets bypassed in favor of cheaper, easier-to-access meal options. The Frogtown Neighborhood Association and St. Stephanus Church are trying to change that, starting in their own backyard.
“Shortly after the food shelf closed, a friend from the Frogtown Neighborhood Association contacted me about how we can address the food inequity issues in Frogtown,” she said. “We decided to become partners and hosted a mobile food truck from Keystone Community Services. We quickly realized that was not enough, so we partnered with Valley Outreach in Stillwater and Second Harvest Heartland and we began distributing food rescue every week from the parking lot of St. Stephanus.”
This is the second season the partners have distributed fresh produce in the church parking lot. On a recent Tuesday evening, more than 150 community members visited the distribution. Esperance was one of them.
Esperance moved to Saint Paul from the Congo in 2016. She found a full-time job at Embassy Suites soon after settling in to her Frogtown home. She also found a support network of other Congolese women in her neighborhood to help care for her two small children while she worked. Euphrasie, one of the first women she met in Saint Paul, has become like a mother to her.
Esperance visits the fresh produce distribution every Tuesday evening, and if the weather is nice, she stays and socializes with Euphrasie and her other neighbors. She’s participated in the free cooking class offered in the church basement during the distribution. For her, it’s not just about the food. It’s about community. Yet without the weekly fresh produce distribution, Esperance admits, she wouldn’t be able to afford the potatoes, fruits and vegetables that fill her children’s plates every night.
“I have a good job, but the money I make at the hotel is not enough to pay all my bills, and it’s definitely not enough to pay for fresh fruits and vegetables,” she said. “I’m not picky, I just want to be able to feed my family healthy food. I’m very grateful for this resource.”
Many of our agency partners distribute produce throughout the year but beginning each June a select group of partners get a little extra help through our Fresh Produce Distribution Partnership. Funded by UnitedHealthcare, the Fresh Produce Distribution Partnership helps local food shelves bring produce distributions to high-need areas by providing support through funding, volunteers, funding and, of course, produce.
Visit us online to find a local produce distribution or food shelf.