Food shelves find need for new foods for new Minnesotans

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What are local food shelves doing to cater to varying tastes of Minnesota’s large immigrant population? According to food shelves, because the demand for specialty foods  is low, it is expensive to stock, but they are trying.

According to both Joan Wadkins from Second Harvest Heartland and Ted Evans of the Emergency Foodshelf Network (EFN), fresh produce is one of the most commonly requested foods at all food shelves, including those within immigrant communities, but distribution is often a challenge. Both Second Harvest and EFN have coolers in their warehouses that can keep perishable foods fresh. Distributing fresh food to individual food shelves is determined by their capacity to store these foods, including availability of refrigeration. Wadkins said that EFN will help food shelves to can “build capacity so that they can provide healthy options and keep food safe.” Second Harvest has purchased commercial coolers and freezers and donated these to its partner food shelves.

Second Harvest has refrigerated trucks that allow the safe transporting of food directly from its warehouses to food banks around the state. Wadkinf says that EFN has increased its fresh produce by ninety-two per cent. Foods needing refrigeration also include milk, yogurt and other dairy products; meats and baked foods.

While Second Harvest doesn’t have specific food programs that cater to immigrants, Wadkinf says that a partnership with Catallia Mexican Foods has proved widely popular with food banks, which receive large tortilla donations.

EFN is more deliberate in serving the immigrant population food needs. Over the years, Evans observes that canned food is unfamiliar for many recent immigrants. “They are given non-perishable foods that end up sitting on their shelves.”

Both of these hunger relief organizations distribute to the Brian Coyle Center’s food bank, which serves a very diverse clientele. Located in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood in Minneapolis, the Brian Coyle Center serves immigrants from Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Vietnam, Korea and several Latin American countries.

Heather Duchscherer who runs the annual Multicultural Dinner in November said that the dinner boasts between 200 and 300 guests. She added, “The Cedar-Riverside neighborhood is home to many diverse cultures and it is a goal of the dinner to bring people together across cultures and build relationships.” Held around Thanksgiving the dinner includes foods such as injera, tibs, chevon, chicken, veggie and meat samosas and varieties of rice and noodle dishes representative of the neighborhood’s diverse palates.

The Multicultural Dinner aside, according to Duchscherer, their clients’ biggest requests are fruits and vegetables; rice and pasta; chicken, goat, beef and pork; flour and cooking oil. “Goat is our most requested product,” she said, “but it’s very expensive.”

The Brian Coyle Center is one of several food banks around the state that distribute the “African pack” from EFN’s four-year old African Food Project. The packs also go to other areas with West African populations, including New Hope and Brooklyn Park. The pack includes rice, plantains, sardines, spaghetti and palm oil (not the healthiest choice for cooking oil, but used in cooking a lot of West African dishes.)

“It is important that we provide people with familiarity in times of crisis … and dignity,” said Evans. EFN also works closely with local farmers including Hmong farmers to access fruits and vegetables.