Second Harvest Heartland, located in St. Paul, is one of the largest food banks in Minnesota and in the nation. Every semester, athletic teams and other Macalester student organizations such as Lives of Commitment go to Second Harvest to help package and sort food. Over winter break the swim and dive teams made the trip to White Bear Township, along with Hiywot Tulu ’20, a student employee at the Civic Engagement Center (CEC).
“I was the student leader for this volunteer opportunity at Second Harvest,” Tulu said. “It was mostly [students from] the swim team. I’ve never been to Second Harvest, this was my first time. Since food is related to health and well-being and I was here… I was like ‘I’ll do it.’”
Tulu is the student coordinator for the health and wellness related community engagement opportunities, a position which normally involves organizing volunteering at local hospitals, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and Planned Parenthood. Employees at the CEC help out with many other projects, including working at Second Harvest Heartland.
Though Second Harvest Heartland always has volunteer opportunities, transportation poses an obstacle. Both Tulu and Civic Leadership and Outreach Coordinator Derek Johnson emphasized that transportation is a major obstacle for students who want to get involved off-campus.
“One of the things that our office does is that we put a budget on transportation because we think that transportation is one of the biggest barriers for students to get off-campus and engage in things, whether that’s advocacy or volunteering or whatever,” Johnson said. “It is much more cost effective to use a car or an Hour Car if it’s a group of four or more.”
“[Second Harvest] was actually a thirty minute drive [from Macalester]… That’s why it’s harder for students to do smaller groups,” Tulu said. “We can set up transportation — we had a bus — if it’s a larger group of students. We can rent a bus and set that up for students.”
With these transportation struggles, students interested in volunteering in this issue area seek out opportunities closer to Macalester, such as Urban Roots or the Food Recovery Program in Cafe Mac.
Makayla Barker ’20 is the issue based coordinator for economic justice at the CEC and coordinates most food justice volunteer opportunities for Macalester students.
“I do a lot of food justice work because that seems to be very popular among Macalester students, so like any organization that’s working for affordable housing or food are generally the organizations I try to get involved with,” she said.
Besides Second Harvest, which usually only sees one-time volunteer opportunities due to transportation logistics, Barker shared a host of other local community engagement options for Macalester students and groups.
“In the fall, usually, we have an opportunity with Neighborhood House where students can go to the farmer’s market on a weekly basis. [They] collect the leftover food that wasn’t sold at the farmer’s market that vendors are willing to donate,” she said. “Then they package that up. They bring it to Neighborhood House, and they stock the food shelf there.”
Tulu also mentioned a new opportunity — Open Arms — that is being run through the health and wellness issue area.
Open Arms is a Minnesota nonprofit which “grows, prepares and delivers free, delicious, medically-tailored meals to people living with life-threatening illnesses in the greater Twin Cities area,” Tulu wrote in her January newsletter on health and wellness opportunities.
In addition to these opportunities, Macalester runs the Gary Erickson Empty Bowls Fundraiser every year which raises money and awareness around local food insecurity and hunger issues. This year the money raised during the event on March 29 will benefit the Hallie Q. Brown Community Center in the Rondo neighborhood.
“[Empty Bowls] is a fundraiser around the intersection of economic justice and food and art with the bowls,” Johnson added
The CEC works with the Hallie Q. Brown Community Center in other ways as well.
“In the past we’ve done a collaboration with MacSHARE, so students who are attending MacSHARE sales can buy extra produce there and then we’ll donate it to Hallie Q. Brown. [It]’s a community development organization. But they also have a food shelf, and they’re just a couple of miles from here in St. Paul,” Barker said. “So that’s a food pantry that would service Macalester students if they didn’t live on Macalester’s campus.”
The CEC and MacSHARE collaborated last semester as well for the sustainability dinner during Macalester’s Hunger and Homelessness Week in Nov., which benefited Second Harvest. MacSHARE is the student-run bulk buying grocery group which runs sales in the Janet Wallace Art Commons throughout the semester.
“We did, in the fall this year, a lot of one time events for hunger and homeless awareness,” Barker said. “One of the events we did was we made a fall sustainable dinner so local produce sourced from MacSHARE that was also seasonal. Then we had students and faculty come — and there was a suggested donation to Second Harvest — for soup and salad and bread.”
Barker is also organizing a one-time event this semester called “Burst the Bubble.” It will happen on Feb. 29, and will include many one-time volunteering opportunities for students who are interested in getting more involved with the larger Twin Cities community. One option will be Second Harvest.
There are many ways for students interested in food justice and more to get involved.
“I would either stop in or use the CEC at Macalester email, and we can figure out who’s the person who’s focused on things you’re interested in and what opportunities are going on right now,” Johnson said. “I think that using the general CEC email or stopping in at the third floor of Markim [Hall] is the best way to find out what possibilities there are.”