Every Monday morning, Christopher Allison and Craig Drehmel meet at the Fresh Thyme grocery store parking lot in Southeast Minneapolis, where pallets of food are waiting to be loaded. Allison opens the back door of the van he drives, and they get to work. The two may have as many as nine other stops to make that morning, picking up surplus food from grocery stores and restaurants across the Twin Cities.
Minneapolis and St. Paul have a strong food rescue movement, led by big organizations like Second Harvest and North Country Food Alliance. A couple of years ago, a few friends came together from the local arts and food justice scenes. They started talking about a different kind of food share program, and came up with the idea for Community Driven.
The new non-profit organization has a holistic mission for healing injustice through food equality, educational opportunities, and access to the arts.
Allison has been the executive director of Community Driven since it started in May 2019. At first, their food share events were sporadic. But for the last six months, Allison, Drehmel, and others have rescued food and delivered it to food shelves and soup kitchens like clockwork – every Monday and Thursday.
Drehmel is the board chair for Community Driven, and has been an essential partner in growing the non-profit.
Allison said, “We tend to focus on smaller grocery stores and restaurants. We see this as our niche, because the larger food rescue organizations won’t work with them.”
Community Driven had one main revenue stream when they started: door-to-door canvassing.
Allison explained, “The accomplishments of our first year were possible because we talked to almost 7,000 people face-to-face. We raised donations, on average, of $25 per household. COVID-19 completely shut down our usual way of fundraising. I was afraid this year was going to be disastrous, but we have actually been able to distribute more healthy food each month than we did the month before. We moved about $100,000 worth of food in our first fiscal year. We’re on track to move about two and a half times that much in our second.”
They aren’t waiting for help – they’re doing it themselves
Once food is collected from stores and restaurants, Community Driven delivers it to their partner organizations which include Groveland Emergency Food Shelf at Plymouth Congregational Church, Keystone Community Services, Glendale Food Shelf, Merrick Family Services, and Loaves and Fishes.
The Twin Cities is experiencing the loss of many restaurants due to COVID-19. Allison said, “Of the restaurants we’ve been involved with, the closing of Muddy Waters in Uptown was the most memorable. So many of the people who worked there were artists, and all of us at Community Driven are deeply involved in the local art scene. This was a restaurant that employed a lot of artists, and paid them well. The decision to close the restaurant was made very quickly.
“We spent two full days moving food out of there: bags of potatoes and onions, frozen meat and sauces, fresh fruit. We moved about $15,000 worth of food.
“The incentive for businesses in this situation is that we’re able to write them a receipt for tax purposes, and they know their food inventory hasn’t gone to waste.”
Allison is quick to acknowledge that the scope of their food rescue work is dwarfed by the giants in the business. He said, “What makes us different is our long-term vision of building a more equitable society. We don’t think food waste and food inequality exist in a vacuum. We believe that all issues of inequality are connected.”
Making a difference
The long-term vision for Community Driven includes establishing an education fund that can provide grants and scholarships for college, trade school, arts training, and other non-traditional kinds of education.
Supporting community artists is another vital part of the Community Driven mission. Staff and board members recently collaborated with the Rogue Citizens Collective to paint murals on the Hook and Ladder music venue at Lake Street and Minnehaha Avenue.
Allison said, “We’re also developing partnerships that would give access to rehearsal spaces, recording studios, booking and event promotion for musicians of all kinds. We’re excited to launch new programs to advance and promote local artists. Funding for education and the arts is raised separately from our food rescue and food share programs.”
Community Driven is currently rescuing and delivering food two days a week. They have enough contacts in the local food industry to go to three days a week, but not until their funding grows. To make a donation to the equity work of Community Driven, go to the donate tab at www.community-driven.org.
Allison concluded, “Wealth stratification is worse than it has ever been in this country. A monthly, sustaining donation to Community Driven can help divert food waste in the Twin Cities to food shelves and soup kitchens – and keep more people from going to bed hungry at night.”