Just Food Co-op is on the front lines of transformational support for Northfield’s youth. The Co-op’s new partnership with the Northfield Union of Youth (NUY) gives at-risk youth the opportunity to prepare, eat, and learn about healthy and nutritional food. Minnesota FoodShare’s March campaign is a great time to celebrate how the Co-op is creatively helping achieve food justice in our community.
NUY supports and runs The Key, a youth center in downtown Northfield. You may have seen the life-sized astronaut mural from the front doors of the Co-op. The Key helps connect Northfield’s youth to each other, to caring adults, and to the community. While the Key is open to all youth 12-20 years old, the day-to-day focus is on at-risk or disenfranchised youth. According to Hailey Beiser, NUY youth board president, The Key is a “home away from home”; open 365 days a year, providing a safe space for youth after school, on weekends, and on holidays. The Key uses art, music, leadership, games, technology, mentoring; anything it can to create a caring and enriching community for youth. Thanks to Just Food Co-op, The Key now use s food.
A surprising number of youth at The Key experience food insecurity for a host of reasons – economic poverty, lack of education, chemical dependency, homelessness, or even just absentee parenting. While Northfield has an array of services, many of the food support systems in our community are adult initiated by parents or guardians. Unfortunately, for youth without the appropriate parental support system, they remain powerless to access the food they need. Since June of 2016, Just Food Co-op has helped put food in front of the youth who need it most. Each week, youth from The Key pick up yogurt, pasta, nuts, bread, sauces, soups, and a variety of other food to bring to The Key. Using the relationships established by caring adults at The Key, at-risk youth are empowered to prepare healthy food for themselves, learn about new types of foods, and bring home healthy options to introduce to their family.
This partnership between NUY and Just Food Co-op is investing resources and energy into a positive spiral of transformational change. Youth come to The Key for the food, but they stay for the art, music, and relationships with each other and caring adults. A relationship with a caring adult is one of the leading benchmarks for youth development. Food from Just Food Co-op makes these relationships possible. This partnership helps provide for the needs of today, but is teaching and empowering youth to meet their own needs tomorrow and in the future. It is the gateway for youth to access other support they need through NUY, such as mental health, academic support, community engagement, or other enrichment activities. Food is at the heart of it all and is helping transform lives by making the healthiest food accessible to the most at-risk youth in our community.
Scott Wopata | Executive Director
Northfield Union of Youth