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Changing the conversation with a plate of food

To make real change in communities across Minneapolis and St. Paul, Twin Cities Relief Initiative starts with free supplies and a hot meal.

ST PAUL, Minn. — For Rachel Nelson and the leaders and volunteers involved in Twin Cities Relief Initiative, the mission is clear: get into neighborhoods in Minneapolis and St. Paul to give families hot food, fresh produce and essential supplies. All of it for free.

"It's about the community being able to come in and take care of your own. And it needs to be free, you know. It needs to be free," Rachel said.

After George Floyd's death over the summer, Rachel and dozens of volunteers worked with Rob Steib and Twin Cities Stand Together (TCST) to serve and give out hot food to peaceful protesters and families by 38th and Chicago in south Minneapolis. Over the summer, Rachel Nelson and some original group leaders involved in TCST, including Tim Fisher, Bryant Jones, Ronnie Guy, Megan Nelson, and other volunteers, moved in a separate direction. They now operate as the group Twin Cities Relief Initiative (TCRI).

Today, Twin Cities Relief Initiative has more than 130 volunteers.

"The first volunteers are the ones who have nothing," said Rachel. "They give everything back. And so it's, it's turned into a family."

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On Sept. 19, TCRI hosted a farmer's market at the corner of Payne Avenue and Maryland Avenue in St. Paul. They gave away 400 boxes of fresh, donated fruits and vegetables. More than 100 baby items were picked up before the market was even in full swing. And of course, everyone who came by got a plate of hot food cooked up by the volunteers.

Rachel says feeding people for free is the first step in changing the experience of giving and receiving. "Give them a full belly, it changes the conversation."

Creating a different experience for the people they serve is another hallmark of TCRI's mission. "It's not like going to a food bank. It's not like going to a Salvation Army. And it's not like getting secondhand, hand me down stuff. It's like going to your friend's hang out, going to a barbecue, getting everything you need," said Rachel.

"It's not like you're not worth the name brand of Similac. You're not worth more than a ham sandwich. You know, we're all out here together. And it changes the experience. They're not giving. They're not receiving. It's a kind of collective. We're, you know, we're doing this together."

RELATED: From ashes to action: Making change in the Twin Cities

Rachel, a mother herself, says she's sacrificed her jobs and dedicates almost all her time now to working with Twin Cities Relief Initiative and the people they serve. Once she realized how much families really need, there was no going back.

"Once you see how bad it is and once you see the lives you can change by, to me, the easiest thing to do. It's like what, what are we doing? This community, we can take care of each other. For free!"

If you want to get involved with Twin Cities Relief Initiative, you can email Rachel at racheln626@gmail.com