United Way Invites Community to Donate Culturally Specific Food Through April

More than 7.5 million Minnesotans visited food shelves last year, according to Hunger Solutions Minnesota, which was a record high for the third consecutive year and nearly 2 million more than the prior year. Food insecurity disproportionately affects diverse populations, which means those in need are less likely to find foods, spices, and sauces familiar and unique to their culture.

The reasons are often rooted in broader systemic issues, such as poverty, discrimination, racism, and structural barriers to opportunity. Food equity requires addressing these underlying inequities through policy changes, advocacy efforts, and community-driven solutions. United Way of 1000 Lakes is among communities across Minnesota partnering on the Flavors of Our Community initiatives to tackle inequities in food access.

In collaboration with local school food pantries, United Way has developed three cultural food packs, Anishinaabe, Hispanic, and Southeast Asian, containing a variety of pantry staples and spices ranging from chili garlic sauce and cumin to bamboo shoots, wild rice (manoomin), and dried beans. When supplemented with fresh foods, the items create nutritious and meaningful meals.

“Ensuring our neighbors from all cultural backgrounds have access to meaningful and familiar foods builds inclusion,” says United Way Executive Director Kimberly Brink Smith. “No matter where we live, when we taste the flavors of our community, we are home.”

The average cost per pack ranges between $10 – $20, depending on pack type.

Through the end of April, volunteers can shop for specific pack items, following the Flavors of Our Community’s packing list, assemble them according to the instructions, and drop them off at one of the designated drop-off locations, including Children’s Discovery Museum, Klockow Brewing Company, Park State Bank (South), Rapids Brewing Co., Super One Foods (Deer River and Grand Rapids locations), Zion Lutheran Church, and United Way’s office.

Last year, several groups participated in Flavors of Our Community packing events to help families in the region. This year, the goal is to assemble 200 food packs, which will meet the needs of our local school food pantries.

“The initiative (to volunteer) is super important to our work toward food equity,” said Molly Hiipakka, United Way Community Impact Coordinator. “Everyone can contribute to increasing access to culturally specific foods, flavors, and spices for neighbors experiencing hunger.”

To participate, sign up here. To learn more about United Way’s work and get involved, visit uwlakes.org or call 218-999-7570.