Hennepin team members connect with Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe

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For the past four years, Hennepin Healthcare has purchased and distributed shelf-stable, nutritionally balanced bags of food from Every Meal for patients facing food insecurity. However, Senior Community Health Worker Paula Brown noticed a gap. 

Currently, there are five varieties of bags that cater to different cultural preferences. For example, orange bags are tailored to Latino dietary preferences and have foods such as black/pinto beans, corn flour, rice, enchilada sauce, and chipotles in adobo. Blue bags on the other hand are pork-free and tailored to African dietary preferences.

“The bags are extremely helpful. Patients have expressed a lot of gratitude for the program,” says Social Determinants of Health Program Liaison Jennette Turner. “It makes the patients feel cared for, and our staff really appreciate being able to have a compassionate response to their patients in need.”

These food bags, along with referrals to Second Harvest Heartland, help support some of the many communities Hennepin Healthcare serves. “I have always been active in Hennepin’s food support initiatives and am a huge supporter of these culturally specific bags,” says Paula, who currently works at the Golden Valley and Saint Anthony Village clinics. “However, one of the first things that was always in the back of my mind was that something was missing for our Native American patients.”

Paula, who is a Native American elder within the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe as well as one of three chairs of the Hennepin Healthcare American Indian Collective, decided to reach out to our Population Health department for assistance.

“I connected with Jennette, and she connected with the partners we receive the bags from. Unfortunately, Every Meal didn’t intend to make additional bags. So I brought this need back to the American Indian Collective.”

Originally, the collective voted to put $500 dollars in funding towards buying supplies to create an additional Native American food bag. However, in the end it was decided a better long-term solution would be to use funds to purchase wild rice that could be added to any of the five existing food bags when needed.

“Hennepin already has the processes in place for purchasing food bags, so adding the wild rice when needed to what is already existing makes it more sustainable long term,” says Paula. “We used the funds to purchase the rice and then I picked it up from my reservation.”

The wild rice is distributed to clinics based on how many Native American patients they see on average. Community Health Workers then ensure food insecure Native American patients receive a bag of wild rice on top of one of the five available food bags.

As an added benefit, wild rice not only holds cultural significance in the Native American diet, but it’s also incredibly nutritious.

“The vitamin content in wild rice is so much higher than pretty much any other grain,” says Jennette. “Offering this wild rice is a great way to honor our native patients and really lets them know that we see them and who they are. Paula and the collective took it upon themselves to find a solution, which is fantastic.”

Both Paula and Jennette also spoke to how meaningful it was not only to purchase the rice in Minnesota, but to purchase it from a community that one of Hennepin Healthcare’s own team members is a part of.

As an organization working towards leading in health equity, having wild rice available for our Native American patients that face food insecurity is a step in the right direction.

“We say we want to be inclusive, and this was just a niche that we had missed and now we’re able to cater to it,” says Paula.

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