Reframe it: How a Backpack or a Grocery Store = Equity (Salon Series Recap)

An “equitable food project”. Do you think of Backpack Buddies that way? Probably not, but that’s how Prodeo teacher Jennifer Christensen presented it. She started the Salon by asking members to think about where we would go to buy fresh produce, meat, gluten-free items. How would we get there? How would we carry the items home? For members, the answers are easy. Most of us have cars and we all have multiple options for shopping. But if we lived in North Minneapolis, the story is different. It’s by definition a food desert. For urban areas, that means a 1 mile radius without affordable, nutritious grocery options.

To underline the point she shared minute 1 to about 5 of the documentary “Living in a Food Desert” that really brought home the domino effect of not having healthy food options nearby.

The group then broke up into twos and wrote suggestions on flip charts for how to change the food desert by topic: connections, services, time, money, goods. Ideas ranged from babysitting at the grocery store to volunteer delivery to community gardens.

So what does a food desert have to do with the achievement gap? Well here’s another reframing: think of it as the opportunity gap. It’s not about whether a child can achieve, but whether he or she has opportunities. If a child comes to school unprepared, not surprisingly, they struggle. They lose that opportunity for academic success, which is a key step to economic self-sufficiency. And that’s where Backpack Buddies comes in. By removing a barrier to learning (hunger), we’re helping with one part of the equation for success. And creating more equity.

Jennifer ended the session by sharing some of the organizations working to end the desert by bringing healthy food options to North Minneapolis:

·       Busy Bee Food. Healthy food delivered directly.

·       Wirth Co-op (opening in the next year):

·       North Market from Pillsbury United Communities (opening fall 2017)

Check them out and think about how you can create equity.



JLM Advocacy: Providing education to inspire members to action


SPECIAL FEATURE Marta Haynes – I’m not a quitter

This past fall, I led a double shift of JLMer’s for the Girls on the Run fall 5k event.  It was a beautiful, crisp fall day. We volunteered at the registration table, were part of a cheer squad out on the race course, and helped with some very demanding post-race clean up.  Girls on the Run is an AMAZING organization whose mission is: “[To] We inspire girls to be joyful, healthy and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum which creatively integrates running”.  I can promise a morning of inspiration and joy. 

I grew up with a dad who was a marathoner, so the whole idea of going to such an event with a parent is deeply nostalgic.  I love it.  I am firm believer in using physical challenges – such as accomplishing a fitness goal – to grow self-esteem. 

I LOVED seeing all the participation at this event, there were “Sparkle Coaches”, parents, brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles from every ethnicity imaginable represented.  Little girls and mothers running in beautiful and colorful headscarves.  I should mention that there were many girls at this event who did NOT have parents or family their supporting them.   These kids were assigned a “Sparkle Coach” to complete the race with.  My heart felt tender towards these kids, as perhaps they were missing that familial support at the event. 

Everyone took to the course.  I felt proud to be an American and a Minnesotan as the starting gun went off.  Racers, volunteers and spectators were all FREE – regardless of race, ethnicity or sexual orientation – without fear.  Free to run YOUR race.  I loved it.  There were signs up everywhere encouraging female strength and highlighting positive personality characteristics.  Being in that environment was like taking a bath in pool of all things affirming of a powerful woman.  Such a much-needed-hiatus from the corporate world I spend so much of life inhabiting. 

Out on the course, I posted our JLM team to stand at the top of a hill.  The kids all started walking at the bottom of the hill, but I noticed that when I held out my hand to get a high five from the runners – the kids ran towards my hand.  It was a great way to get them to run up the hill.  Sometimes all we need is a little high five (please consider this in work team situations). 

After a while, the running pack started to thin out, and the runners who would be finishing with longer times started shuffling by.  I have been in this pack of runners at races – it is “no fun”.  There was a girl who was struggling and clearly got separated from her Sparkle Coach.

“Where’s your Coach, Kiddo?”

“I don’t know.”

“Do you mind if I run with you for a while?”


“How’s it going?”

“Awful – I hate every minute of this – everything hurts. I hate running!”

I looked down at her shoes – which were several years old, ripped, and were so small for her feet that they couldn’t even lace up all the way.  There was barely enough shoe lace left over to tie at the top.  Also, this girl was struggling to walk, talk and breath, as she was carrying extra weight.  I perceived that this event may be extremely challenging for her – pure torture even.

“But I WON’T give up! I will persevere!”

I saw this opening as an opportunity.  “Oh yeah, why won’t you give up?”

“Because I’m not a quitter and I can do ANYTHING I put my mind to.”

Feeling emotional, and in-spite-of the tightness in my throat, I said, “Do you ABSOLUTELY promise me that you are never going to forget that?  Promise me right now. You CAN do anything you put your mind to, and with that attitude you are going to accomplish great things.” 

“I promise.”

By this point, her coach had caught up with us and I said good-bye.  And a prayer of gratitude.  I used to be that little seven year old girl with so much determination – and – as a result of that interaction, I realized she had gone missing for a bit.  I realized that – I had actually been showing up as a “quitter” in a couple of areas in my own life over the last few months.  As is absolutely true in 100% of the times that I volunteer with JLM, I benefit more than what I contribute.  This synergy is why I chose to spend my free time supporting the JLM.

Her determination inspired me to lace up my running shoes the next morning (I hadn’t been running in months) and hit the trails at Lebanon Hills.  I can’t wait to volunteer with the JLM at the Girls on the Run 5K this June!



JLM Advocacy: Providing education to inspire members to action

SPECIAL FEATURE Marta Haynes- Performance Anxiety, Building Beautification, and People Serving People

The team was set, the countdown had started.  T-3 minutes, the doors would open, and approximately 250 people would be expecting us to be on our A game.  My palms were sweaty, my heart rate was a bit elevated.  Oh – and my hair net was NOT cute.  I suddenly felt awkward in a way I had never felt awkward before – well not at least since I took my first Barre class.  Like I was all left feet.

Performance anxiety.  I have been plagued with it since I was a little kid.  And here I am – at the ripe age of 37 – serving as a shift lead for the very first time at People Serving People.  Am I some type of nut?  Who gets nervous about volunteering to serve lunch at a shelter?

People Serving People (PSP) helps homeless and at risk children and their families manage crisis situations and build a strong foundation for their long-term success.  PSP is the largest and most comprehensive family-focused homeless shelters in Minnesota.  60% of PSP guests are children averaging 6 years of age.  The Helping Hands Committee has secured monthly volunteer sessions at PSP for this League year.  The first half of the session is spent serving lunch, and the second half of the session is spent on a building beautification project (aka cleaning up the shelter). 

So – back to my question.  Why would I get nervous or anxious volunteering at PSP?  Well – firstly – it is a lot of people to serve – with a lot of energy flowing around that little cafeteria.  That day we served 238 meals in 32 minutes.  You must keep people moving at a fast clip because lunch only lasts for so long.  AND – I had the crucial job of serving meat and gravy OR the two pieces of chicken.  May sound simple – but I was slopping all over the place and I had to find a fine balance between slapping the food quickly on the tray and attempting to be a bit respectful of the fact this is someone’s food – and trying to show respect to the individual by placing the food nicely on the tray.

Of course – being a perfectionist never helps.  Also – the JLM lady that stood next to me and was responsible for scooping corn clearly felt I needed to hurry up.  After her third offer of help, and the realization that I was not cut out for juggling meat AND gravy in a fast-paced setting – I switched and some anxiety left me as I realized just how easy it was to scoop corn.  There are some skills they just don’t teach you in pursuit of an MBA. 

When I switched with my teammate, I finally had a moment to look up and take it in.  Tears came up rather abruptly as I looked at all of the people crammed into that space who were hungry, who needed to be there.  I always feel overwhelmed when I think of the fact that I have the option of hiding my greatest struggles on the inside, under a façade of a nice outfit, makeup or a big smile – whilst others wear their struggles on the outside – and are often disrespected as a result.  Why do I have SO much, and others have so little?

Then it hit me – these are FAMILIES sitting down to eat TOGETHER!  They are the blessed ones.  This is a blessing that many families don’t have, even if they do have a nice big home, a large grocery budget – or even a personal chef! 

As we finished serving lunch and began to clean up, this adorable little girl – maybe one and a half or two – toddled over to me to hand me her booster chair.  It was about as big as her – and she just looked at me with her big brown eyes and tried to lift it up.  Instinctively I said, “Oh baby girl let me take that for you.  That is too heavy for such a little girl like you.  Thank you so much for being such a good helper.”  The tears surfaced again, as I thought about all of the “heavy” stuff this kid has probably had to “carry” in her life.  And yet – she still wanted to do her part to clean up.  I felt humbled.  I wondered where I could model a little more of her attitude in my life?

We then went on to the next phase of our volunteer shift – and I don’t think anyone was mentally prepared for the cleaning project we were about to embark on.  The PSP volunteer coordinator staff said that we would be assisting with a “building beautification project” – of course when I signed us up I figured it was painting or decorating or something.  Little did I know it was going to be hard core cleaning.

The group was less than enthusiastic and a bit apprehensive, so I volunteered to take the “messiest task”.  I was handed a toilet bowl cleaner and plastic gloves.  I was a little grossed out.  The room we were cleaning was abandoned overnight, and the family had left lots of stuff behind.  It was very shocking to see, and because of the state of the room, nothing was salvageable (toys, books, clothes, blankets).  To be honest, it was shocking.  And I didn’t think we were ever going to get out of there.  But – JLM’ers are known for their ability to get things done quickly and efficiently – and the room was cleaned up in no time.  Not to mention, the PSP staff person greatly appreciated our help – she gave me a huge hug when we left. 

“Building Beautification” – it is relative.  Sometimes that beautification comes in the form of cleaning out the garbage that can’t be recycled, perhaps the beautification came in the form of our conversation whilst we cleaned, perhaps it was the intention of blessings for the next family that would inhabit the sparkling clean room.

As I reflect back on my experience at PSP, I can truly say that it embodied “people serving people”.  I, a person, was serving another person, and vice versa.  The little girl that gave me her booster chair, SHE served ME.  The smile and laughs I had with the PSP staff person while we cleaned that room, that served me.  We are all people, and we need that sense of connection to feel alive and relevant. 



JLM Advocacy: Providing education to inspire members to action

Salon Series Recap – Second Harvest Heartland

Junior League of Minneapolis Community Partner Salon Series
SALON: [suhlon; French salawn] an assembly of guests common during the 17th and 18th centuries, consisting of the leaders in society, art, politics, etc. under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine the taste and increase the knowledge of the participants through conversation.

In January, we’re offering members the chance to connect with some of our community partners in small group settings to take a more holistic look at the achievement gap in Minneapolis.

  • From Second Harvest Heartland on January 12, we’ll deepen our understanding about hunger in our community and its tie to the achievement gap.
In the JLM’s first night of the Salon Series, Theresa McCormick, Produce Strategy Manager at Second Harvest Heartland, shared with us that 1 in 10 people in MN experience stress induced by hunger every day.  Second Harvest Heartland’s mission is to end hunger in our community through community partners.  Second Harvest does by running a number of different programs that serve varying populations of our community. And while Second Harvest employs a staff of 150+ individuals, much of their work is made possible by volunteer groups, like the Junior League. In 2016, 30,000 people volunteered to help sort and repack food to prepare it for distribution.  In 2016, Second Harvest distributed 80 million pounds of food, 55% of which was fresh food.
Through it’s various programs, Second Harvest serves approximately 532,000 individuals each year. Many of their programs focus on getting food into the hands of children and families.  Unfortunately, 1 in 6 kids in Minnesota is at risk of hunger.  In suburban areas, children miss almost 19 million meals every year primarily due to lack of participation in government funded programs.  In rural areas, children miss almost 7 million meals each year because of barriers to availability of food and access to transportation to get food.  Almost 9 million meals are missed throughout the summer due to lack of availability to school meal programs during the summer months.
In order to help these children, Second Harvest is currently piloting a program called “Food + You” which aims to increase healthy food resources available to students and their families by partnering with schools to create tailored solutions.  This multi-dimensional program connects students and their families with existing federal nutrition programs, direct food distribution, and community resources. After the pilot is completed, Second Harvest will use the data to develop the long-term program model.