Food Is a Human Right: The Food Group

The Food Group
In response to COVID-19, The Food Group donated foods commonly found in
East African dishes and distributed them in partnership with Youth and Family
Circle. They reached 480 families throughout Ramsey County. (Eric Wilson)

In the middle of a pandemic and economic downturn, food scarcity is growing in the Twin Cities. More people are hungry, and charitable food distribution is at an all-time high, according to Emily Eddy White, director of development and marking at The Food Group.

“Food is a human right,” said Eddy White. This mantra fuels the activity of the nonprofit organization, which has been fighting hunger throughout 30 counties in Minnesota and Wisconsin since 1976. But the need right now is greater than ever, she said.  

Eddy White, who has been with The Food Group since 2006, said she has seen a heightened state of need this year. Since April, the organization has been providing double the amount of food as normal. Recent events have led to new partnerships with organizations like Second Harvest Heartland, the City of Minneapolis and Twin Cities Food Justice to distribute food in neighborhoods such as Powderhorn Park, the site of a growing camp for the homeless, and near the place of George Floyd’s murder. The killing of Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, which occurred on May 25, sparked protests and violence that damaged local grocery stores. 

Access to nutritious foods and fresh produce is becoming a challenge for many, Eddy White said, because of “grocery stores having to close, restaurants, places that people in those neighborhoods really depended on for food.”

The Food Group has also responded to demand created by the pandemic.  

Normally, the organization relies on groups of up to 50 volunteers to sort and pack food in the warehouse located in New Hope, Minnesota. 

 “We had to figure out how to do it safely with the pandemic,” Eddy White said. “Just how do you have people come together to pack and sort food but also keep a safe distance? So, we have had groups of under 10 coming together and packing food every day at our warehouse.” 

Not only has packing been altered, but distribution of the food has as well, with the organization creating a drive-thru pickup in order to socially distance.  

“We’ve had to adapt a lot of our programs,” she said. 

So far, The Food Group has played a vital role in feeding the community in a time of great uncertainty. However, Eddy White expects the demand to only increase in the fall as unemployment benefits diminish. She said, “I think we had a good initial response (to the pandemic) and I think we still have a consistent response, but we’re in need of volunteers right now, so that’s definitely one of the things that we’re trying to focus on.” 

What keeps Eddy White up at night? 

“How do we most effectively meet the need? What are those gaps in the community that we need to be identifying and making sure that we as an organization are most effectively fulfilling our mission and our purpose?

“Food is a basic need and basic right, and when you don’t have your basic needs met, it’s really hard to focus on anything else,” she said. “I think a lot about that.” 

While Eddy White lies awake thinking about how these problems will be solved, someone, somewhere in Minneapolis falls asleep with a belly full of food thanks to The Food Group. 

“That’s why we exist,” she said.