Open Collective
Open Collective
Reflections on 2023
Published on December 21, 2023 by Eileen King

Sign outside Camp Nenookaasi, December 2023

This month marks the end of our third full year, and you'll probably notice that this year's update looks a lot like last year's! While it's infuriating that our elected officials have chosen not to make meaningful progress toward housing for all, we're grateful to be able to offer our most vulnerable neighbors some very concrete support in a stable and sustainable way. Once again, we extend our thanks to everyone who's contributed time, gas, money, and spread the word about us. With the help of the Open Collective Foundation, we’re sitting down to reflect on this year and what we're looking forward to in 2024.

A year of relationships
Thanks to more awareness of what we're doing, we've seen increased numbers of volunteers and a growing group of folks willing to get connected, step up and take on additional responsibilities. That's meant that we've been able to more consistently cook more food - in 2023 we cooked just over 19,000 hot meals, and as we head into our final week, we're going to hit 22,200 meals for 2024! [Edit: final count for 2023 is 22,272]. That's over 15% more than we made last year, and thanks to each of you, there were very few times we worried about how we'd pay for the containers to pack them in.

As always, each of those meals includes a main dish, a fruit or veggie side, a dessert, silverware, and a bottle of water (a quick scroll through Instagram is a great way to get a sense for what meals look like), and as always, the vast majority of those meals are delivered to unhoused folks all over Minneapolis (we also have some neighbors who stop by to pick up dinner). Freedom From the Streets has teamed up with us as well, and they've been able to pretty consistently help deliver food to neighbors we weren't already connected with - awesome!

Packed meals and water headed out for delivery
Continuing in our theme of stability through relationships, we are also ever more grateful for our hosts and partners at First Congregational Church - because of their gracious support in working out of their building rent-free, we're able to spend every donated dollar on the extra ingredients, bottled water, and packaging required to turn donated food into complete meals that people genuinely want to eat. We're not just using their space, though - their entire congregation and staff has been hospitable and affirming to every volunteer who's walked in the door regardless of their faith background (or lack thereof), and pairs of volunteers from the congregation have continued to step up for Monday and Tuesday night cleanup. Scrubbing soup pots and hauling out compost is unglamorous and demanding work, and they do it without complaint. They also shared hundreds of cookies decorated by church families (some pictured below) that we were able to pack into last Monday's dinners!

Cookies decorated by First Church families

The next day, we served 227 spaghetti dinners with those cookies!

Food donations have come from an incredible array of connections as well - besides cookies from First Church, we've also received treat donations from too many home bakers to name (thank you!!), and nearly 400 pounds of nonperishable foods from Northrop Elementary School! As far as ongoing food connections, our primary hookup continues to be Twin Cities Food Justice, an organization that does incredible work recruiting volunteers to transport expiring and overstocked produce to places (like us!) that can make sure it gets used. We've been able to divert well over ten thousand pounds of food from being composted; this has been primarily by using it to cook meals, but sometimes by sharing produce and bread directly (either by setting out a free food table in front of the building on Sunday afternoons - many of our neighbors are college students and elders with fixed incomes - or, if we had a large quantity of something we wouldn't have time or space to process, by passing it along to groups doing family grocery distribution).

Community Aid Network of Minnesota (CANMN) and Calvary Food Shelf have been our primary connections for sharing our abundance, and they've been generous in passing their surplus food along to us as well - when canned carrots, for example, turned out to be unpopular with CANMN's neighbors, they passed along hundreds of cans we've been able to put into soups and stir-fries all fall. We're deeply grateful for both of those connections; we're excited to celebrate Calvary's reopening in a renovated building soon, and we're optimistic that CANMN will be able to find a new space and also reopen before too long!
Our challenges
In addition to everyday obstacles (COVID and other illness being chief among them - when there are five volunteer slots for meal prep, having even two people get sick suddenly leaves us very shorthanded), our two biggest challenges this year were identical to last year: serving people where they are and the rising cost of goods.

To serve people where they are, we need to know where they are - as the city continues to violently destroy encampments (often with no notice or communication), we have to constantly re-write our delivery routes. Having consistent drivers who've gotten to know encampment residents has been a huge asset in staying up-to-date on where people are and what they need (and enjoy!) as far as food. We've also worked hard to build connections with other groups and individuals who are regularly on the ground to foster a network of communication and support.
The rising cost of goods is another challenge that we - like the rest of the country - have continued to face. Inflation affects not only our ingredients, but also our packaging and kitchen supplies. As explained above, partnerships with other groups provide most of the produce and bread that we serve, but we supplement those with purchases of protein, dairy, fruit, and water so that we can provide people with adequately nutritional meals. We also need to pack our food for transport, which means stickers for labeling the contents and date of packed meals; to-go boxes or soup cups for the main course; plastic cups for a side of fruit; disposable utensils to eat with and a bag to put it all in. On top of all that, we need to purchase plastic wrap, aluminum foil, soap, sanitizer, paper towels and all the other miscellaneous kitchen expenses that often get overlooked. With all of these components, prices add up! That said, a huge win for this year is that - thanks to all of you and your regular pledges! - we are more or less at a place of financial stability. 

Looking ahead
We plan to continue to serve people where they are in the coming year! We will continue to organize and apply the lessons we've learned in 2023 - both as far as structure and interpersonal caretaking but also concrete things like documenting kitchen tasks and processes. We will continue to collaborate with other organizations that support housing and food security for all. To prevent burnout and commit to our longevity, we’re continuing to improve communication and the distribution of labor within our team. 

We dream of a world of abundance, where everyone has equal access to what they need and we come together to cook just for the sheer joy of food and community. Let's continue to work toward that together in 2024 and beyond!
A packing shift - meals get bagged up assembly line-style
If you’d like to stay connected and learn more about our work, as well as updates about Minneapolis mutual aid, you can follow us on social media:

And if you want to join us in the kitchen and/or on the streets, the January volunteer sign up is live! It also includes a prep shift on New Year's Eve - what better way to set an intention for 2024 than to spend some of the last hours of 2023 lending a hand?