West Broadway in North Minneapolis was lined with businesses where community members could get groceries, supplies and even a slice of pizza for free on Saturday.
However, after a night of looting and arson, many of those stores have been left in ruins, no longer to be of service to community.
The Hawthorne Crossings strip mall parking lot of U.S. Bank and other stores transformed into a donation hub this past weekend. The lot was packed with hundreds of people handing out donations or waiting to receive some. Along the parking lot fence were necessities like baby diapers and toilet paper piled high. Tables with canned foods, fresh produce and even baby clothes were set out.
“Yesterday we had one table and three cases of water. And today we don't have any more space for food,” said Ashli Henderson, a local comedian from North Minneapolis, who organized the drive. The drive was to help those impacted by the riots in a community that was hard hit by looting and arson during protests over the death of George Floyd.
Henderson, who is also a member of The Movement Church, said she put out the call for donations after getting the green light from Carmen Means, the church’s pastor. Word spread over social media and pulled in volunteers and donations.
“I didn't know it was going be this and I just thank God for being God,” Henderson said. “And look at this. It’s love, it’s happy, it's fun. It’s community, it’s family. This is the stuff we don't see enough of not because it doesn't happen, but because [the media] doesn’t cover it.”
Devonda Scott had been helping out and handing out hot dogs for five hours since morning. She said it was a dedication to the community that brought her out to the lot.
“There’s a need and I’m here to support it,” Scott said.
Volunteers were on site Noon to 5 p.m. Henderson said the limited hours were to ensure “not only the safety of the community, but the safety of everyone that's helping” during the curfew.
Down the street, the Sanctuary Covenant Church reopened its doors to give out donations. After the state shut down churches due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sanctuary has been offering services online.
Edrin Williams, Sanctuary’s pastor, said though Sunday worship and other gatherings have moved online, the ministry has actually grown during lockdown. The church has been supporting various addiction recovery homes throughout the neighborhood, including Turning Point Recovery Center, and has given away grocery store gift cards to the community, among other things.
“Even though we were doing quite a bit before, we're doing even more now. And then when Mr. Floyd died earlier this week, we were able to take our love to the community to an even greater level,” Williams said.
Over the last few days the church has turned to grilling up hot meals for hundreds of families, and recently began distributing food to another few hundred, Williams said
“We planned not to serve [Saturday] so that we could serve again [Sunday]. But someone called and said, ‘Hey, we have a truckload of supplies. Could you guys use it?’ And so we were like, of course we could,” Williams said.
He added that with the nearby Cub Foods being closed down due to looting, “We feel like we can get those items to the community the folks who need it.”
Outside on a stretch of grass near Sanctuary’s parking lot a group of faith leaders unaffiliated with the nearby church had a similar idea to serve the community.
Jeff Nehrbass, pastor of the Gethsemane Lutheran Church, managed the cluster of volunteers as they tended the smoking grill lined with burgers and brats, and packed grocery bags of donations.
The group, which includes leaders from Evangelist Temple House of Refuge Outreach Ministries, Christ the River of Life, A Mother’s Love, and Woodale Church in Loring Park, has also been delivering groceries to seniors in the area in the aftermath of the rioting.
“Seniors are partly vulnerable because not only are grocery stores closed, but transit is shut down,” Nehrbass said.
While he organizes the donations in the daylight, Nehrbass said pastors from other churches are also working with community members to protect local stores when the unrest during the protest grows.
“Build community during the day and protect it at night,” is Nehrbass’ mantra.
When asked about the possibility that those outside the area are responsible for the property damage, a narrative pushed by Gov. Tim Walz and the Twin Cities mayors, Henderson said though she believes the riots didn’t start with community members, both kinds of protests–peaceful and more disruptive–are still about injustice of police brutality.
“In my personal opinion both got a message across to America that this needs to end. So am I angry with the people who rioted? No, I understand that they're frustrated. I understand that there's a war that's above us. And yeah there may be some misguided people. However, overall, we're angry, we're hurting, we're confused,” Henderson said.
For Williams, giving back and protecting the community has its rewards in difficult times.
“But even in the midst of a very dark moment like this, to see so much good come out of it, it just reaffirms that there are a lot of good people out there, and that there is good happening in the world,” Williams said. “For me it is fulfilling to see happen, to see how something as simple as two hot dogs and a bottle of water can bring such a huge smile on somebody's face.”