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‘We serve’

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Food shelves in Scott and Carver County prepare for the holiday season

With fall here and winter approaching, food shelves in Scott and Carver County are preparing for what they anticipate will be a busy end of the year.

Food insecurity has heavily impacted Minnesota over the past decade, and this dilemma has worsened since the start of the pandemic.

Minnesotans made over 3.8 million visits to food shelves last year — a new record high for the state, according to 2020 statistics from Hunger Solutions Minnesota, a nonprofit organization centered on combating food insecurity in Minnesota.

PREPARING FOR HOLIDAYS

Food shelves in Scott and Carver counties are finding creative ways to serve the community as the holiday season nears and 2021 reaches a close.

In November, the Jordan Area Food Shelf provides turkeys, potatoes and a bag filled with other traditional Thanksgiving dinner sides. This Thanksgiving, the Jordan Area Food Shelf is also hosting its third annual Turkey Trot event, where participants run or walk a three-mile trail and raise money for the food shelf.

Next month, the food shelf will stock up on hams and other typical Christmas and winter holiday fixings for people to prepare meals.

As the weather gets colder, the food shelf also donates winter coats and blankets to its visitors in need. It also is looking into the ability to give Christmas presents to kids this year.

Tanya Velishek, executive director of Jordan Area Food Shelf, said she tries to be creative in providing to the community around the holidays.

“We do multiple different things during the holiday season … [because] it’s not just about feeding the community,” Velishek said. “It’s also giving them something to look forward to in the spirit of the holidays.”

Like Jordan Area Food Shelf, the CAP Agency’s food shelf also puts holiday baskets together around the end of the year.

Jackie Lara, CAP Agency’s director of nutrition and community services, said the Scott County community often donates holiday-themed foods in fall and winter. The food shelf receives most of its turkey and ham donations around this time, and many people donate holiday sides like stuffing and potatoes.

“It’s through that community support, those donations and the generosity out there that really makes these things happen,” Lara said.

According to Lara, the CAP Agency sees an increase in families served beginning in September and even more heightened numbers in November and December.

This finding aligns with data compiled last year by Hunger Solutions Minnesota. The organization’s findings show an increase among food shelf visits after September, with numbers generally reaching a high for the year in the last three months.

According to Hunger Solutions Minnesota Executive Director Colleen Moriarty, food shelf numbers often rise at the end of the year as transportation becomes more difficult and access to farmers markets and personal gardens disappears.

Majority of food provided by the CAP Agency is either purchased or donated through local food banks, according to Lara. She said more food drives and donations happen around this time from families, schools and faith-based organizations.

“It’s the time of giving, and people want to help out and give back,” Lara said.

A TIME OF GIVING

Bountiful Basket Food Shelf in Chaska serves eastern Carver County by preparing holiday meals for families and using its mobile food programs to the fullest extent. Much of the food preparation and organizing is done by volunteers.

This year, the food shelf is working with Love INC and local churches to deliver 250 turkeys and supplemental holiday food bags to families in need. Volunteers also help out at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Chaska every year to debone turkeys ahead of the church’s annual Thanksgiving meal.

The food shelf is working with nonprofit organization Humanity Alliance this year, where volunteers prepare, cook and deliver meals to families primarily in Carver County. In this partnership, 200 additional turkeys and food bags will be prepared for families.

Bountiful Basket also partners toward the end of the year with Fare for All, a low-cost, grocery purchasing program. $15 vouchers will be provided to visitors to purchase food at Fare for All.

Providing assistance to those in need is something Bountiful Basket Board Chairman Tom Redman said can alleviate worries for families around the holidays and year-round.

“If we can provide [families] with healthy food, they can use their resources for other things, whether that be medical, transportation or housing,” Redman said. “We can take a lot of that worry away from families.”

While visitor numbers increase around this time of year, all three food shelves noted donation numbers surge as well. Redman and Velishek also see increased food and monetary donations at their respective food shelves.

Moriarty believes these acts of generosity are common in Minnesota during this time of year.

“We live in incredibly generous communities in the state of Minnesota, and people are very generous in the holidays to food shelves,” Moriarty said.

Ahead of Hunger Solutions Minnesota 2021 data release, Moriarty said this year’s overall visit numbers are getting back to pre-pandemic levels from 2019. She largely attributes this drop to the implementation of government programs and assistance over the past year, like free and reduced school meals.

While decreased visitation numbers are encouraging, Hunger Solutions Minnesota’s findings still show Minnesotans making millions of food shelf visits annually.

Moving forward, the three food shelves are prepared to continue helping Scott and Carver County residents for the rest of the year and beyond.

“In a pandemic, time of need, jobless or whatever, sometimes people just need that extra hand to get them to the next week,” Velishek said. “I find it really important to be able to help meet those needs.”


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Protesters rally at Prior Lake High School in response to racist video

Students, activists and community members gathered outside of Prior Lake High School on Nov. 11 to stage a peaceful protest supporting a student of color who was allegedly targeted in a racist video posted on social media earlier this week by a fellow classmate.

High school students were dismissed early from class around 12:45 p.m. ahead of the protest.

Nya Sigin, who has identified herself as the alleged target of the video, publicly condemned the video and thanked all her supporters for showing up and voicing their concerns and stories.

“I am 14 years old. I am a child. I have had to deal with racism in my city for as long as I can remember,” said Sigin during the protest. “I am so thankful for everyone showing up. You don’t understand how much this means to me and my family. This is where we can create real change.”

Sigin also took to her Instagram account on Thursday to express her gratitude for the outpouring of love and support from people across the nation.

“Everyone who came up and spoke, shared your experiences with racism, discrimination and all-around utter hate from the people around you just because of the color of your skin, touched every single one of our hearts, around the country,” Sigin stated. “The bravery you all had to come out and share your stories is so inspiring to so many people and I really hope you know that. Thank you everyone who has supported me.”

During the rally, several students from PLHS and surrounding districts, shared their personal experiences with racism and said they plan to attend the next Prior Lake-Savage Area School Board meeting, which is scheduled for Nov. 22, to demand the students involved in the video be disciplined.

“I was the first person to post the video on Instagram. When I posted it, I didn’t expect all that attention. I just wanted it to reach something or someone,” said Dago Abebaw, a supporter of the protest. “The things in the video are very vile. Hearing things like that, especially at a young age, is very damaging and it sticks with a person. When someone is telling you to end your life and calling you the ‘N’ word, that’s hurtful. This isn’t something she’s going to go to bed at night and forget about. This is going to affect her the rest of her life. The words you say to people matter, your actions matter and what you do matters.”

The video features a teen girl, who district officials have identified as a PLHS student, repeatedly saying racial slurs and encouraging the target of the video to take her own life.

Achai Deng, Sigin’s cousin and a sophomore at PLHS, said she wanted to help organize the protest because Sigin is family and she has also experienced personal racism.

“What happened in that video is not right and it should never happen again. No one ever should have to go through that at all,” Deng told the Prior Lake American. “Nya has beautiful dark skin like chocolate. That’s my little sister, she’s just beautiful and she’s such a nice person. It’s sad to see what happens to good people. Me and her used to talk about our situations being dark skinned and it’s just sad to see.”

A GoFundMe, which was widely shared by civil rights activist and journalist Shaun King, has now reached over $100,000.

PRESS CONFERENCE

That same day, local city and school district officials held a press conference at Savage City Hall.

Savage Police Chief Rodney Seurer, who described the video as “horrific,” “hateful” and “racist,” said detectives were continuing to conduct follow-up interviews as the department works with the Scott County Attorney’s Office on the investigation.

“This is not tolerated here,” Seurer said.

During the press conference, Superintendent Teri Staloch declined to comment on the enrollment status of the students involved in the incident, citing the pending investigation.

“I understand the desire for consequences and [to know] what happened to the person — and that will come out,” she said.

PUBLIC OFFICIALS RESPOND

Statements from public officials condemning the video continued to filter in last week.

“As a historically welcoming community, the racist and hateful video shared this week on social media hurt us as a whole,” Savage Mayor Janet Williams said in a statement on Nov. 11.

“Our school resource officers and detectives are working with the PLSAS school administration, the Sioux community and Scott County Attorney’s office to thoroughly investigate this matter and take appropriate action,” Williams stated.

Additionally, Williams highlighted the city’s work in hosting Community Conversations on Race events for the past three years and recently forming a Race, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Task Force to advise the Savage City Council on issues of racial equity.

“They will have a significant role in building a stronger community,” she wrote. “We will work with our partners to talk about race and destigmatize mental illness as Nya asked us to do!”

Prior Lake Mayor Kirt Briggs released a statement on Nov. 11, denouncing racism and stating that the community has important work ahead.

“The video does not reflect the values of our Prior Lake community. And yet, we must acknowledge that it originated here, and that there is still important work that needs to be done,” Briggs said. “We need to advance open conversations on racism to better understand one another and our experiences. This is the only way to create a path forward to strengthen and unite us.”

State and federal lawmakers have also responded to the video.

Minnesota Sen. Eric Pratt (R-Prior Lake) released a statement on Nov. 11.

“The sentiments stated by the student in the video are absolutely not indicative of our community’s values, and the student should be held accountable for her actions. I grew up in this community — I’ve raised my family in this community, and this display of harmful rhetoric is not indicative of the values of the community I know and love,” Pratt said. “All students deserve to be supported in times of need, and I am hopeful that Prior Lake High School will take the steps necessary to hold the students involved accountable for their actions. We have to teach our kids to do better.”

On Twitter, U.S. Rep. Angie Craig called the video horrific.

“I’m proud to stand with Nya,” Craig wrote. “Racism has no place in our community, and no one should be subject to this kind of harmful and bigoted rhetoric. We must not accept this behavior in our communities.”

Reporter Christine Schuster contributed to this report.


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