After a parent at Sanford Middle School in Minneapolis reached out to principal Amy Nelson suggesting ways of getting food to local kids in the district, the educator never imagined the overwhelming response she would receive from the community, as well as towns and cities beyond.
Over the weekend, many local grocery stores were closed due to protests fueled by the death George Floyd. The sudden closure of these essential businesses quickly limited many families' access to food.
Nelson initially posted a callout on social media, asking for 85 food kits to be donated to help students and their families. Soon after the message went up, it quickly became clear to Nelson that the turnout was going to be much bigger than they had anticipated.
"Aldi, Target, Cub (Foods) — they were all burned out and looted," Nelson said. "The same with Walgreens and CVS. There's nowhere to go (to) buy groceries, diapers or shampoo."
On Sunday morning, people from as far away as Wisconsin descended on the school, which is currently closed due to COVID-19, bringing bags filled with groceries and toiletries. The middle school is within a three-block radius of the 3rd police precinct that was burned during the protests.
"I think people were looking for something to do," Nelson told TODAY Food. "We had countless people drive up. They were at a grocery story 25 miles away and people there were buying from our same grocery list."
Initially, Nelson had expected to receive donations from 10 a.m. to noon on Sunday. But when she arrived at the school at 8 a.m., there was already more food than she knew what to do with. Nelson, who has been a teacher and administrator in Minnesota for 20 years, said she has never seen anything like it.
As the piles of groceries mounted, Nelson realized she'd be able to help those beyond her school district. Thankfully, she explained, The Sheridan Story, a local organization that works to fight childhood hunger, was able to step in.
"I told them, 'We’re going to have a lot of people,'" she recalled.
To help get the word out, The Sheridan Story shared some photos from the incredible day on Instagram.
"As we get close to wrapping up the day, but certainly not our work, our words are few and full of love - the outpouring of community support we experienced today was… simply beautiful!" read the caption accompanying photos of the donations.
On Monday, the organization shared another post.
In addition to The Sheridan Story, the school also partnered with Culinary and Wellness Services, the school's nutrition program, which was able to accept the perishable items that could not be distributed quickly.
"We started in parking lot and then covered every square inch of grass," Nelson said of of the food drops. "It got so congested, we sent a truck down to a nearby park.
"People waited over an hour to drop food, some started dropping food off on the avenue."
Rob Williams, executive director and founder of The Sheridan Story told TODAY that his organization specializes in getting food to hungry kids.
"It’s not a supply problem, it’s a distribution problem," he said. "The goal was and is to get food into those neighborhoods where the grocery stories had to close, where it became a food desert."
Usually, The Sheridan Story helps provide meals to kids during times when they might not otherwise have access to government programs, including weekends and holidays. Recently, the organization has increased its output and says it's bringing 100,000 meals to kids in the Minneapolis area every week.
"On Sunday, we estimate we served 2,000 families," he said. Food that could not be distributed was re-routed to other places in Minnesota. The organization still has even more nonperishables and will redistribute them to others in need.
Many also came out to bring food to Hiawatha Collegiate College High School, near where much of the damage occurred during the protests.
"It was a very emotional day of seeing the community come together to serve those kids and families that needed to be served the most," Williams said. "The response was from people of all backgrounds, serving people of all backgrounds. This is what we want Minnesota to be about."