In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, flames raged through the 3rd Precinct police station in Minneapolis on Thursday. Neighborhood stores were ransacked and closed amid widespread anger after a video showed Floyd — a black man — begging for his life, then going limp as a white police officer pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck.
A nearby middle school found many of its students and their families who live blocks from the police station were stuck without access to food.
“The area has become a food desert for these families, many of whom don’t own a vehicle to drive elsewhere,” said Amy Nelson, the principal of Sanford Middle School.
School food services and public transportation were suspended across the city, affecting the school’s 970 students, about 60 percent of whom are eligible for free or reduced lunch. Nelson decided to step in.
“We had to do something,” Nelson said.
She and her staff emailed friends and others in the community, asking them to bring a total of 85 food kits to the school parking lot Sunday morning. They asked for staples like cereal, bread and apples, as well as diapers, detergent and other essentials. The kits would be distributed to anyone who needed them.
Word of the food drive spread on social media and local news, with hundreds of people offering to help.
Still, staff at Sanford Middle School said they anticipated no more than 150 kits would be delivered Sunday morning. But at 8 a.m., an hour before people were supposed to drop off deliveries, the school loading docks were already full of food.
“The donations just kept coming, and coming, and coming,” Nelson said.
By 8:30 a.m., a winding line of people waited to drop off food.
“There were miles of cars holding food, wrapped around our city blocks,” said Mara Bernick, family liaison for Sanford Middle School.
Hundreds of people showed up to give what they could. Some arrived in U-Haul trucks and trailers, and some came carrying groceries in their hands.
Soon, the school property was covered with thousands of bags of groceries. By the end of the day, an estimated 30,000 food kits were delivered, and more than 500 families and individuals were able to stock their pantries and fridges.
One was Rosy Morales, a single mother whose son is a student at Sanford Middle School. The family lives a few blocks from the 3rd Precinct police station and close to Lake Street, where some of the unrest is unfolding.
“Accessibility to food is a huge issue for us right now,” Morales said. “Our normal grocery stores are either burned to the ground or they’ve been looted and closed.”
“The food drive was definitely a big help for us,” she said.
By the afternoon, school grounds were overflowing with donations but people were still dropping off food.
That’s when neighboring businesses offered to become alternative drop-off sites.
“A nearby restaurant, a community center, a Pilates studio and a high school flung open their doors and said, ‘We’ve got you,’ ” Bernick said. “The community really came together as a whole.”
Jabari Browne, a special-education teacher at Sanford Middle School, said he was awed by the turnout.
“I tried to take it all in,” he said. “The day was quite overwhelming, especially with everything else happening here in Minneapolis.”
Bernick had invited Rob Williams, the founder and executive director of the Sheridan Story, a nonprofit organization aimed at fighting child hunger in Minnesota.
“I asked him if he could distribute any excess food we collected,” she said.
Williams brought a truck and crew to the school to help.
“The need out there is truly palpable,” said Williams, whose organization provides more than 100,000 meals a week to children in Minnesota.
“Prior to the pandemic, there were over 200,000 kids that lived with food insecurity in Minnesota,” Williams said. “If you add covid-19 and the current unrest that’s going on, there is a sudden, acute need for food.”
Not only did hundreds of people deliver packages, but staff, students, parents and a sea of community members also volunteered to organize the supplies and ensure the process ran smoothly.
“People of all backgrounds and races were picking up food and helping each other,” Bernick said. “And that’s what Minneapolis is. That is who we are. We take care of each other.”
Williams added: “There are unquestionably injustices in our states, cities, counties and systems, but to see people put all of that aside and come together to help one another — that is really what we want to be about.”
For Bernick, the most poignant part of the food drive was when her 17-year-old son, who was volunteering, turned to her and said, “This is what I’ll remember most from 2020.”
The excess supplies and food ― of which there was plenty — was taken to distribution centers in areas of the city most affected by the pandemic and protests.
“At Sanford Middle School, we are all about diversity and helping each other,” said Bernick. “These students see what we are doing. They are the future; they are ones who will effect change.”