Rachel Nelson stood near a giant grill on the lawn of the Kenyan Community Seventh-day Adventist Church in Brooklyn Center on Saturday afternoon.
Cars stretched down N. Humboldt Avenue. About 80,000 pounds of donated food was stacked alongside 20,000 pounds of supplies: toothpaste, toilet paper, laundry detergent and feminine hygiene products. Another 46,000 pounds of food was about to arrive. Soon, the grill would be smoking with chicken legs and burgers. It was a festival of giving.
A couple hundred feet away at the Brooklyn Center Police Department was a different, tense scene. The department remained barricaded and manned by members of the Minnesota National Guard. Nightly protests have continued since last Sunday’s shooting death of 20-year-old Daunte Wright by a Brooklyn Center police officer.
It was two sides of the same coin: the hostility directed at police after Wright’s death, and the humanity and charity directed toward residents of the inner-ring suburb shattered by the protests and violence of the past week.
“We’re out here and it feels like yesterday,” said Nelson, who formed the Twin Cities Relief Initiative to feed protesters near the 38th Street and Chicago Avenue memorial to George Floyd, and who gave out food there 42 days straight last summer. “It’s the same type of hostility. What’s beautiful is our team tries to change it into something positive. If you’re angry and you haven’t eaten, you’re super angry. Having a full belly changes it into a conversation. It changes it into healing.”
“Everyone’s got a plate of food,” she said, “so they’re eating and talking instead of shaking the fence and going crazy.” Organizers of the adjacent grocery giveaway were from One Minnesota, a nonprofit formed after Floyd’s death. The nonprofit estimated it would hand out around 115,000 pounds of groceries Saturday to 5,000 families.
One Minnesota handed out 178,000 bags of groceries in one month after Floyd’s death. The group has continued with a “food sanctuary” in St. Paul, where it hands out food donations Wednesday evenings and every other Saturday.
Saturday’s donations included 30-pound boxes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which has a contract with One Minnesota. Each box contained 5 pounds of chicken, a bag of potatoes, a bag of apples or oranges, yogurt, sour cream and butter. Other donated food and supplies were stacked on a dozen folding tables nearby.
“We wanted to be in the community affected most by the police killing last week,” said Janie Briggs, director of operations for One Minnesota. “There’s stuff boarded up all over the place. This was already a food desert. When you close the places that had the food, then you really don’t have any food.”
For Nelson, the protests of the past 11 months have hit home. She grew up in a hog-farming family in Lindstrom, Minn., northeast of the Twin Cities. Her father is Black and her mother is white. Growing up, she’d see her father harassed by police, even accosted on his own property.
The protests, she believes, have made a difference with police accountability.
“For the first time in 34 years,” Nelson said, “the police are more afraid of me than I am of them. And I’ve heard that from so many people. To have them want to touch you as a human first instead of not even making eye contact with you — all that’s changed.”
Reid Forgrave • 612-673-4647