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Meet the people feeding their Native elders in Minneapolis during COVID-19

Minneapolis American Indian Center's Gatherings Cafe is closed to the public due to COVID-19 but staff and volunteers are still providing meals for their elders.

MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota — COVID-19 caused Minneapolis American Indian Center's Gatherings Cafe to close to the public about two weeks ago. 

"It's been difficult. It's been hard for us. We're used to people coming in our doors all the time and being able to help people when they're coming in," said Mary LaGarde, MAIC executive director. 

The Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation reached out, asking how they could help. 

"We talked a lot about food insecurity for our American Indian community and particularly our elders who are in their homes," LaGarde said. 

Normally, MAIC would pick up elders and bring them to Gatherings Cafe for congregate dining Monday through Friday. Instead, staff and volunteers are now making 100 meals per day and delivering them to elders in south Minneapolis.

Credit: Brian Yazzie
Monday through Friday, staff and volunteers are making meals at Gatherings Cafe in Minneapolis.

"I miss the elders and so once they said, 'You want to help cook for the elders?' I'm like, 'Oh, let's do it.' It's a good thing," said Benjamin Shendo, cafe manager at Gatherings Cafe. "Just like how they took care of us as we were little, we gotta take care of them." 

During this time, Chef Brian Yazzie—a Diné Chef from Navajo Nation in Dennehotso, Arizona and currently based out of Saint Paul—had been self-isolating for two weeks and was looking for ways to use his platform to help others. 

Credit: Brian Yazzie
Chef Brian Yazzie said they are in need of dried ingredients, spices and herbs, oils, flours and natural sweeteners.

He reached out to Shendo and became involved with making meals for the elders. 

"We're able to purchase fresh produce and also reach out to Indigenous food producers and vendors and purchase about 50% Indigenous ingredients to implement in our daily meals. So we're doing what we can and making comfort food healthy," Yazzie said. 

Bison & Hominy Tacos w/ Housemade Salsa and Spanish Rice. #TacoTuesday #FeedingOurElders

Posted by Yazzie The Chef on Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Yazzie said while they've been focused on Minneapolis, they're now talking to organizations in St. Paul. The hope is to expand, feeding not just elders but the Indigenous community, in general, during this time. 

Yazzie said they are in need of dried ingredients, spices and herbs, oils, flours and natural sweeteners. 

Deliveries can be dropped off at:
Minneapolis American Indian Center
1530 E. Franklin Avenue
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55404

Monetary donations can be sent to Brian Yazzie's PayPal: paypal.me/yazziethecook. 

You can also contact him for more information at brian@yazziethechef.com

LaGarde said they could also use more masks and those could be sent out to elders with their meals. 

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The state of Minnesota has set up a hotline for general questions about coronavirus at 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903, available 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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