Red tomatoes in a bin

Celebrating Culture and Community with Food at CLUES

During a beautiful morning at the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month, a maze of tents, stages and food trucks were set up in the Payne-Phalen neighborhood of St. Paul, celebrating the many cultures and nationalities that make up the Twin Cities Latinx community. Hosted by Comunidades Latinas Unidas En Servicio (CLUES), Minnesota’s largest Latino-led nonprofit organization, Fiesta Latina is an annual fall celebration of Latinx culture. 

Bins of fresh produce

Some of the Second Harvest Heartland produce available for shoppers.

Adding to the festivities of the day, Canasta Familiar, CLUES’ culturally appropriate, free food distribution service, hosted a produce distribution for festival goers. The produce provided by Second Harvest Heartland included fresh bell peppers, onions, apples, broccoli, tomatoes, cabbages, carrots, melons and pears, plus some dairy and shelf-stable food items. Over the course of the day, 12,370 pounds of food were distributed to the 226 families who attended the distribution. 

“A lot of families are looking for culturally specific food and fresh produce,” says CLUES Food Access Supervisor Janelle Calvo. “Things like dried beans, jalapenos, avocados and maseca.” 

A woman checks out shoppers at a food shelf

One shopper said he came to pick up food at CLUES for him and his wife. “We like everything they give us here.”

A large group of primarily Spanish-speaking volunteers made the day run smoothly, from check-in to packaging produce, to weighing each full cart, they created a system that got people in and out quickly and able to enjoy the rest of the festival or get on with their days. 

Food workers at a food shelf.

Food distribution volunteers during Fiesta Latina.

Mary attended the distribution at CLUES during Fiesta Latina. “I come because the cost of food is very high, and many times I don’t have enough to buy everything I need,” she said. “It's not the first time. But when I first came, it was because a friend told me to come, especially because vegetables are more expensive, especially in the winter. I not only get food for myself but also when my grandchildren visit me, I can have food to make something for them as well.” 

A group of people standing around fresh produce

Mary really appreciates the fresh vegetables, rice, beans and other shelf-stable foods.

Mary is not alone. “A lot of people come because food is expensive, gas is getting pricey too,” explains Janelle. Word of mouth has been a particularly important way for the community to learn about Canasta Familiar’s food distributions. “The majority of people we see know each other, so people are spreading the word.” 

To learn more about CLUES and Canasta Familiar, visit