The Food Access Hub: Food Security for Our Community

A recent survey of students from St. Catherine, Augsburg, and Hamline Universities revealed that fully 69% of respondents were “food insecure,” defined as the lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life.

That figure didn’t surprise leaders of St. Kate’s/CSJ Food Access Hub (FAH). They have seen a 50% increase in client visits to the FAH food shelf and a 30% increase in total pounds of food distributed over the last year.

In addition to the food shelf, offered every first and third Wednesday, the FAH also includes a network of community gardens, sustainability initiatives, and membership in the Cross-Campus Food Access Coalition as it addresses food insecurity, nutrition, and personal wellness needs within and beyond the St. Kate’s communities.

It takes a village to sustain this work. Students serve in leadership roles, supported by CSJ staff and St. Kate’s faculty and staff. Volunteers help with delivery and stocking of the food shelf. Community partners—including Second Harvest Heartland, The Food Group, and Twin Cities Food Justice—help stock the shelves. Local community gardeners provide produce and donations. CSJ provides space, staff, and limited financial support. Additionally, St. Kate’s supports a portion of staff time. The effort relies on grants and donations for all food purchases.

The FAH is starting its seventh year, but its seeds were planted 19 years ago when CSJ started a community garden. “We were listening to young adults about authentic ways to build community while giving back and the garden grew out of that,” says Jennifer Tacheny, director of CSJ’s Young Adult Spirituality and Community Engagement, an Agrégée, and a co-founder of the FAH. “Because the garden became a pillar of CSJ’s Young Adult Spirituality program and we built relationships with students, faculty and staff around food justice initiatives, it made sense to partner with St. Kate’s in addressing food insecurity.”

In 2013, the research project of a St. Kate’s faculty member found that food insecurity was beginning to be a big issue for students. Concerned faculty, staff, students, and CSJ representatives came together to form what was then called the Food Insecurity Project.

The food shelf opened in 2017 in Carondelet Center. When Covid hit, grants and shifts in programming made it possible for the team to expand the hub. Today, in addition to the St. Kate’s community, the food shelf also serves clients from St. Mary’s Clinics. “When we first started, we were handing out snack bags with fruit and granola bars and clearly that wasn’t sufficient,” says Sheats. “With the Carondelet Center space and grants, we have been able to purchase food from food banks where every dollar buys us up to $4 of food.” Proteins, frozen food, culturally appropriate foods, and hygiene products have been added, and most recently, ready-to-eat, microwaveable meals.

“Our growth over the last seven years has just been astonishing,” says Tacheny. She says that about 20% of the food that is distributed is grown or rescued from the community. “This impacts our goal of sustainability,” she says. “We’re asking ourselves how we can continue to innovate and grow beyond that 20%. Because student interns provide operational and programmatic leadership, we’ve been able to evolve in ways that are in sync with student needs and interests.”

As the St. Kate’s/CSJ Food Access Hub continues to build community around food access justice, leaders say the challenge is determining how fast and far to grow. “We created this to respond to the needs of our community out of our charism. So, now the question is, where does the community want us to go next? And if we want to continue providing this vital resource for St. Kate’s students, how do we sustain this effort?”

Hannah White, program coordinator with Young Adult Spirituality and previous operations coordinator of FAH, notes that the work brings together people from so many different places. “We have student workers from diverse majors. We have nutrition and dietetics department faculty and staff. We have community gardeners who create such a vibrant atmosphere in the garden, and student interns and volunteers who do the same during food shelf days. I recognize how formative it has been for me to have inter-generational relationships and to be around people my own age who care about the same things so deeply.”

CSJs have always been about meeting the needs of the time. So, when the demographics of St. Kate’s began to change and we found that students needed food, it was natural that we said, “We can do that!’