KAYTE YOUNG: Production support for Earth Eats comes from Bloomingfoods Coop Market, providing local residents with locally sourced food since 1976. Owned by over 12,000 residents in Monroe County and beyond. More at Bloomingfoods dot Coop. And Elizabeth Ruh, Enrolled Agent with personal financial services. Assisting businesses and individuals with tax preparation and planning for over 15 years. More at PersonalFinancialServices.net
(Earth Eats Theme Music)
From WFIU in Bloomington Indiana, I'm Kayte Young and this is Earth Eats.
LYNNELL BLAKEMORE: If you came and didn't have no money, or didn't have enough money, he'd be like, “Don’t' worry about it, go ahead.” He fed everybody.
KAYTE YOUNG: Coming up on the show, we remember Chef David McAtee killed by authorities in Louisville Kentucky amid this week's violence surrounding protests of deadly policing in the black community. And as the number of infections and deaths from COVID-19 continues rise, we give a second listen to a conversation with Amanda Nikki of Mother Hubbard's Cupboard, about changes in their emergency food services. That's all just ahead, stay with us.
Let's go to Renee Reed for news. Hi Renee.
RENEE REED: Hi Kayte. I have just one report this week from Chad Bouchard. Meatpacking workers are facing some of the biggest workplace risks as the industry death toll continues to rise, while facilities move back into production. Figures from the U.S. department of Agriculture show that meat production is now only 6% lower than it was a year ago; bouncing back from a near standstill. But watchdogs, health advocates and unions say the infection risk to workers is still high, and U.S. agencies are failing to protect workers.
Late last month a Tyson plant in Storm Lake Iowa, shut down after 555 employees tested positive for the virus out of 25,000 total employees. Reports from the United food and Commercial Workers Union and the Food and Environment Reporting Network -FERN, suggests the death toll for the virus for meatpacking employees is between 44 and 67 with thousands of workers infected with the virus. FERN also found that COVID-19 infection rates among rural counties with meatpacking plants had rates of infection five times that of rural counties without plants.
Despite peak infection rates at plants, at the end of April, President Donald Trump ordered meat processing plants to resume operations, invocating the Defense Production Act to declare meat processors as essential to the nation's food supply chain. For Earth Eats News, I'm Renee Reed.
(Earth Eats News Theme Music plays out)
KAYTE YOUNG [narrating]: Protests have erupted all across the country and beyond our shores this week. Sparked by the killing of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis. In Louisville Kentucky, demonstrators are also drawing attention to the killing of Breonna Taylor, the EMT who was shot in her home after police entered in the middle of the night with a no-knock order.
Protests in Louisville were far from the corner of 26th and West Broadway, but after curfew last Sunday night, police and national guard moved in on a crowd gathered at Dino's and YaYa's Barbeque Stand. After a shot was fired, authorities returned fire, striking and killing David McAtee - the owner of the barbeque stand. McAtee, known to his friends as YaYa, ran the barbeque stand on the back of a small cinder block building at the edge of a short parking lot, across the street from a busy convenience store called Dino's. On Tuesday I spoke with a few people who knew him as the community was beginning to gather for a vigil and a remembrance at the site of his barbeque stand - where he spent his last moments. The aroma of charred hamburgers and bratwurst drifted through the early evening air, from oil drum style barbeque grills near a blue pop-up tent. Marcia Lawhorn had on a t-shirt with a full color photograph of David McAtee in a chef's jacket, pouring sauce over a pan of cooked meat. They were friends.
MARCIA LAWHORN: Me and him, he had the barbeque business, and I sell t-shirts, so he would allow me to come and set up where he was at all the time and sell my t-shirts. And he did look out for everybody on the food; if you were short and didn't have all the money, he'll let you get your food for free, he used to feed all the officers. He was passionate about what he did. He was a very respectable, loved, kind, gentleman, (he would) give you the shirt off his back. And he, everybody knows him, because everybody probably ate at least once from him, you know. And then it was the two clubs right there, so after the clubs he'll be, you know, set up and you always come here late night and get something to eat and stuff like that. He had the music going, had a nice tent, and hey, he had chairs, he had everything. He made it real comfortable outside for everybody. Yeah, it's sad. Sad.
KAYTE YOUNG: [Interviewing] What kind of food did he make?
MARCIA LAWHORN: Barbeque, ribs, hot dogs, sausages. He had side orders, chips, he had everything.
KAYTE YOUNG: [Interviewing] Like what kind of side orders?
MARCIA LAWHORN: Potato salad, baked beans, corn. He had some real long poles of sausages, and everything was good, he did a really good job. He was really good at what he did. Passionate, I keep saying passionate about what he did.
KAYTE YOUNG: [Narrating] Marcia’s t-shirt was one that he made with McAtee's photo and his name.
MARCIA LAWHORN: Just to remember him. Another black man shot, unfortunately. Yeah.
KAYTE YOUNG: [Narrating] Next, I spoke with Victor Tellis.
[Interviewing] So, did you come down here and eat sometimes?
VICTOR TELLIS: Oh, yea I always came down here. You know he would even give me free bratwurst, cause he knows that's what I like. Then and when he saw me, he said, "Here, you know, here Vic." So yeah, I came down here,I ate a lot. Yeah. Especially when I was out and about cause the club right here, Double Duece, that's where I used to come sometimes. Now I don't because I have refrained from that, I'm a Christian man now. I try to be a Christian man, anyway, the best I can. But yeah when I hung out, yeah, this was one of my spots. Yeah.
And he made you feel at home, you know? He welcomed you, you know. So. Did a lot of good things in the community too. Yeah, he's a very good man, he fed the community. He's gonna be missed by many. You know he was like part of the family; my sister was very close to him. They were kind of, almost got married. Yeah. But yeah, he's gonna be much, very much missed, but he will not be forgotten. The body's absent, but the spirit's alive. So, yeah.
KAYTE YOUNG: [Narrating] When Victor's sister approached, she agreed to speak with me.
LYNNELL BLAKEMORE: My name's Lynnell Blakemore. First time I been down here since it happened. I was close to David. I called him Guy, everybody calls him Yaya, I just said Ya. (He) fed everybody. If you came and didn't have no money, or didn't have enough money, he'd be like, "Don't worry about it, go ahead." He fed everybody. And his food was just great. He was famous for his YaYa burgers. You know? All night long, YaYa burgers. If he didn't have any burgers, guys was like not happy.
KAYTE YOUNG: [Interviewing] What other kind of stuff did he have?
LYNNELL BLAKEMORE: He had like polish sausage, he would do ribs, he would do rib tips. It just depends on how he felt and what he wanted to add to it. Some days he would have sides like he can cook, oh my god, he cooked good macaroni and cheese and green beans. Oh my goodness, he always made it good. He always made it good. I got hooked on his food and didn't want no other barbeque in the city. Like I went without barbeque for the whole COVID-19 shutdown, it's like I miss my YaYa ribs and stuff.
When everything was shut down, he wasn't, I don't think he was doing as much. Right before the COVID shutdown he had lost his sister, so he was not really feeling that. He was still grieving you know. And it was a deep grievance, because he loves his family. It's just... but then after that he got his little mojo back, and got back to cooking, and got back to being hisself.
We had a ball down here for Memorial Day. He has the music going, he's out there cooking, the grills are going, they're smoking, it's drawing people in. And he likes to do pretty much, he's like to do everything hisself. He’ll take the orders; you can give him five orders at a time, and he would not forgot not one of them.
VICTOR TELLIS: Yeah, he was a workahol.
LYNNELL BLAKEMORE: Yeah, he was.
VICTOR TELLIS: He was a workaholic.
LYNNELL BLAKEMORE: He was definitely a workaholic.
VICTOR TELLIS: Yeah.
LYNNELL BLAKEMORE: Cause he was dedicated to it. You know and he was determined to make his business work, he was determined to make his business grow. Yeah. It feels weird being down here knowing he's not gonna be here anymore.
KAYTE YOUNG: [Narrating] I asked Lynnell if she was there the night that McAtee was killed.
LYNNELL BLAKEMORE: You know I wasn't, he called me that day, that afternoon. And he was like "I sold so much food the night before, and I ran out."
He's like, "I'm going to the store before the store shut down, cause we got this curfew."
He's like, "Are you coming down?"
I’m like, "No, I don’t think I'm coming down at night, Ya. I think I’m gonna stay home"
I say, "Cause I got to work the next morning so... I think I’mma just stay home."
He was like, "Okay." He say, "Well, let me get to the store."
I said, "Okay baby, be careful.” You know.
He was like, "You know it." He always call me honey bunny.
(He) said, "Okay honey bunny, I talk to you later.”
KAYTE YOUNG: [Narrating] I asked Lynnell how she was feeling about the protests.
LYNNELL BLAKEMORE: This right here, it's like we're living in a movie nightmare. Just all the things that are going on in all the cities, and it's pretty scary. It's pretty scary. I just feel that our leaders need to step up and do the right thing, so the people don't feel like they have the need to get out here and have the protests for rights. You know? For action.
(Cars honking in background)
KAYTE YOUNG: The honking you hear in the background is all the cars going by paying tribute to the memory of David McAtee of YaYa's barbeque. You can hear a more in-depth story on chef David McAtee and the events surrounding his death in a piece that aired Wednesday night on All Things Considered with Ari Shapiro. We have a link on our website, EarthEarts.org.
(Earth Eats Production Support Theme Music)
Production support comes from Bill Brown at Griffy Creek Studio, architectural design and consulting for residential, commercial and community projects. Sustainable, energy positive and resilient design for a rapidly changing world. Bill at GriffyCreek dot studio. Insurance agent Dan Williamson of Bill Resch Insurance. Offering comprehensive home, auto, business and life coverage, in affiliation with Pekin Insurance. Beyond the expected. More at Bill Resch Insurance dot com. And Bloomingfoods Coop Market, providing local residents with locally sourced food since 1976. Owned by over 12,000 residents in Monroe County and beyond. More at Bloomingfoods dot Co-op.
While much of the nation's attention is focused on protests against racialized police brutality, the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over. States have started opening up in stages including Indiana, while the infections and deaths from the coronavirus continue to climb. It's been widely reported that communities of color and low-income communities are disproportionately affected by COVID-19.
Back in March I spoke with Amanda Nikki of Mother Hubbard's Cupboard, about changes they made in their model for providing food assistance for those in our community who struggle to get food on the table in the best of times. And even more so during a pandemic which has led to unprecedented unemployment numbers.
I decided to share our conversation again this week, as a reminder that the struggles related to the pandemic continue, and that very little has changed since this piece aired in late March. Here's Amanda Nickey, president and CEO of Mother Hubbard's Cupboard, known locally as the hub.
AMANDA NICKEY: We offer a food pantry that operates kind of like a grocery store. We try to offer as much fresh food as possible. People can just walk through the pantry and pick the items that they want. And then we also offer education programming, so we have cooking and gardening programming, a tool share that is a lending library of cooking and gardening tools. We have kids programming, kid's cook and kids gardening workshops, and then we also do advocacy around local, state, and national issues affecting hunger and poverty.
KAYTE YOUNG: [Interviewing] Do you consider the work that you do at Mother Hubbard's to be an essential service?
AMANDA NICKEY: Yeah, I mean I think, simply because folks rely on us week to week just to make, we have become an essential service. I think one of the things that's like slowly hit me over the last week is how unprepared most people are for a crisis like this. It's not like responding to a natural disaster, where the harm or the risk has happened, or you know the disaster has happened and now you’re going into a community and trying to meet the food needs. You know food banks have lots of experience with that kind of thing but when I think about you know what we're all going through right now like, we're all at risk all the time. And that's something that I’m trying to wrap my brain around. How do we as emergency food providers respond to the everyday need, the crisis need, and the real risk to ourselves? And to others that we're interacting with. And that's something that I it's just, I know that everyone is saying this, it's unprecedented, but it is. And that's the thing that I don’t, I don't really know, I don't really know what to do. And I you know, right now, today we're an essential service. Unless someone else or you know, someone from the government or the military or something steps in and takes control over this, then you know we are an essential service.
KAYTE YOUNG: What do you think that this crisis tells us or can tell us about how we deal with hunger in the U.S.?
AMANDA NICKEY: I mean I think mostly that it's highlighting how much of our everyday lives food banks, and food pantries and soup kitchens have become, that you know, when someone needs food then these are the ways that they should go about getting it, instead of really trying to address those root causes, and that it's an inadequate response, and that it's, you know, the people who rely on our services and you know people all over the country who rely on similar services just to make it through the week, that these are the people that are gonna be at a higher risk of contracting the virus and getting seriously ill because they have to be out there, they have to get food wherever they can during the week from as many resources as are available to them. They don’t have the option of going to the store and buying several weeks’ worth of food, or ordering things online and having it delivered to their home. I just I think that it's highlighting all of the different ways that we actually have a different food system who are experiencing poverty.
KAYTE YOUNG: Do you think it's the responsibility of charities like a food pantry to meet this need?
AMANDA NICKEY: I think that's a difficult question because I think that the community as a whole, feels that it's our role. To meet the need during this crisis, right? But I have to feel a little bit like, at least for me, I don’t' feel fully equipped to deal with this crisis and to do the work that we are supposed to do. You know, we, we're really good at running the organization that we have, but this is something that we've never ever had to experience. And I think that you know, we're being careful, and we're taking precautions, and I know that all the other organizations in our community are doing the same thing, and we're all doing the best that we can with what we have. But it feels I don't know it feels a little bit lonely. It feels a little bit like we're just making it up as we go and hoping that we're doing the right thing. So, I mean is it a responsibility, is it an obligation, is it our role, I think those are a little bit different things. I know that all of, I'm speaking for the hub, but probably all organizations in town too, like we do feel like if we don't do this, who’s going to? But we feel like that everyday anyway because that's just the reality of the work that we do. That if we don’t provide food for people who need it in our community, who else is going to do that? Wages aren't going up, housing isn't getting cheaper. The people who have power to change the conditions in our community aren't doing that, and so we have to be here every day, doing the things that we do, and now in this crisis that at least I don't feel fully equipped to handle, we have to keep doing that, and we have to do more and we have to take on more of a risk, more of a risk than we've ever had to do before.
KAYTE YOUNG: The first change that they made was to cancel all programming except for food distribution.
AMANDA NICKEY: We stopped all of our non-essential programming. So, workshops and all of our cooking demos, the drop-in classes that we have, kids cook, all of our kids programming. We suspended the tool share, rentals, right now. Mostly we just don't have the capacity to deal with the tool share program on top of everything else.
KAYTE YOUNG: Then they limited the number of people allowed in the pantry at one time. Quickly they switched to a pickup system outside on the patio and asked people to approach one at a time.
AMANDA NICKEY: And we set up some cone barriers that just said, "Stop here, one household at a time" and asked people to just walk up, tell us if they wanted, what kind of meat they wanted. There were some options that people could choose from. We prep the box; we take it to a table that's 6 feet from the cones. When we walk away after dropping the box down, then we would tell folks they could come up and pick up their box.
KAYTE YOUNG: On Monday, March 16th, they made the difficult decision to prohibit volunteers on site.
AMANDA NICKEY: We have, you know, anywhere between 4 and 500 volunteers on an annual basis, and dozens each day on different shifts, and it's just too many people to try to catch up to speed every day. And we wanted to make our best effort to close our circle and limit the number of people that we're in close contact with, and it just seemed like the best thing to do, is to minimize who was gonna be in the building and who was going to be packing the boxes and who was going to be in close quarters together. So, we narrowed it down to just staff, and it feels terrible. And I know that you know, this is the kind of situation that people want to do. They wanna take some kind of action, and I know it's so hard for so many people to know that the best action they can do, is to stay at home. It was heartbreaking to have to tell so many of our regular volunteers last week, that we love you and we wish you could be here, but you can't. The best thing you can do for us is to stay home. And to support us from afar.
KAYTE YOUNG: Mhm. And you normally have a spring fundraiser, like a gathering?
AMANDA NICKEY: Yeah, at this time of the year I would be panicking and having anxiety about a different issue and it would be our harvest team breakfast. This year it was to be held on April 2nd, it's the largest fundraiser that we have of the year and it raises over 100,000 dollars for our programs. These are the donations that allow us to do the food pantry but also our like other really innovative programming, or educational programming, our tool share, the advocacy work that we do. And so, the loss of that fundraiser is pretty devastating for us. We're seeing donations online and coming through the mail. But once things get a little more routine or settled for us, once we adjust to the new normal, we're gonna have to make a game plan for making up for that fundraiser. It's the kind of event where people make a multiyear pledge, so they're giving us a gift this year, but they're also pledging a donation for 5 years out. So, this is going to have a ripple effect for the next five years for us.
I do want to talk about the community response, because we've seen a lot of support from the community and I think a lot of organizations in town have, and I’m sure organizations all over the country have. But we've seen an amazing outpouring of support either financially or with resources. We desperately needed boxes last week and we were getting box deliveries all day every day from folks in the community. We've had a lot of financial donations that are really really helpful right now. Other businesses in town who have dropped off supplies for us, gloves or boxes, food, beer. (laughs) those kinds of things. Just to help us kind of get through each day. Has been really it's been really moving for me, sometimes this work can seem really lonely, and sometimes it feels like people in the community don’t really understand how serious the situation is every day, and so for people to come out and show us this kind of support right now it means a lot. Even just the email messages or the voicemail messages that we're getting from folks that are saying "thank you" or the posts on Facebook that are just saying "thank you for being there" or "thank you for doing this" or you know "keep at it, you’re doing a great job" it's helping us, it’s helping us get through each day.
(in background: thank you!)
KAYTE YOUNG: So, they were down to six staff members, focused on a new system of packing up food boxes and handing them out in the parking lot. I stopped by on Friday in keeping my distance, I observed their system for the last two hours of the day. The staff arranged stools and rope in the parking lot with signage directing people to the tent. The lot could hold about six cars at once. It was full for the entire two hours with cars backed up down the street. A few folk without cars walked up and stepped into the line. Each household could take the number of boxes that they needed and had a choice between fish and chicken and an option for a gallon of milk.
AMANDA NICKEY: It's an incredibly different model than what we're used to.
KAYTE YOUNG: Full disclosure, I worked at the hub for seven years. Central to the organization's mission is serving people with dignity, offering choice, and building relationships. Handing someone a prepackaged box wearing a face mask and gloves, and keeping a six-foot distance, goes against everything the hub stands for.
(thanks, thank you!)
KAYTE YOUNG: Amanda, Sara, Liz, Kristen, Hannah and Alissa, managed to keep their spirits up, cracking jokes, cranking the music from the warehouse. At one point when a patron had trouble hearing the meat choices, Amanda resorted to gesturing. "Fish?", moving her hand like a wave, then, "Chicken?", with thumbs in her armpits she flapped her arms like chicken wings.
AMANDA NICKEY: Fish or chicken? Do you need fish or chicken? (laughter)
KAYTE YOUNG: [Narrating] It was impossible not to laugh out loud or at least crack a smile.
AMANDA NICKEY: [To patron] Okay, there you go.
UNIDENTIFIED PATRON: Thanks guys, for everything.
AMANDA NICKEY: Thank you, be careful
UNIDENTIFIED PATRON: Thanks for your work
AMANDA NICKEY: Stay safe!
KAYTE YOUNG: And I observed another gesture from Amanda. After the boxes for a household were gathered on the table and ready for pickup, Amanda would let them know "here you go, thanks" and she'd go give the sides of the boxes several affectionate pats with her gloved hands before walking back to her station to maintain that six foot distance.
AMANDA NICKEY: Here you go (pat pat)
KAYTE YOUNG: I read those pats as her intention to connect, almost a virtual hug. A way to say, "I can’t be close to you, but I care about you"
AMANDA NICKEY: We need one or two boxes. Do you want milk?
KAYTE YOUNG: There wasn't a lot of room for such tenderness in these interactions. For the sake of clarity, it was mostly reduced to instructions and requests, often yelled across the distance and over the hum of idling cars. But Amanda found a way.
AMANDA NICKEY: Do you need one or two boxes? Then come over here. Fish or chicken?
UNIDENTIFIED PATRON: What?
AMANDA NICKEY: Fish or chicken?
UNIDENTIFIED PATRON: Chicken.
AMANDA NICKEY: Do you want milk?
UNIDENTIFIED PATRON: Yes please.
KAYTE YOUNG: A few things have changed at the hub since this conversation, everyone is now required to wear a face mask on site. With the continued absence of volunteers they hired three former interns as temporary staff to assist to with the labor intensive food distribution model. Though the education programming remains on hold, they distributed a few hundred home gardening kits. They're offering virtual coffee talks, and they're experimenting with virtual cooking classes on Zoom. Amanda estimates they're serving about 200 households each day. The drive-up box pick up system continues, they're waiting for the virus caseloads to decrease for a sustained amount of time before they begin bringing people back indoors. And even then, they imagine a scaled down version of the usual operations. For more updates from Amanda Nikki about Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard, go to our website, EarthEats.org.
AMANDA NICKEY: Do you want one or two boxes? Fish or chicken? Milk?
UNIDENTIFIED PATRON: Chicken, one box of chicken
AMANDA NICKEY: Just one box?
UNIDENTIFIED PATRON: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED PATRON: Thanks.
(Earth Eats Theme Music)
KAYTE YOUNG: That’s it for our show, thanks for listening. Stay nourished, stay safe.
RENEE REED: The Earth Eats team includes Eobon Binder, Chad Bouchard, Mark Chilla, Abraham Hill, Taylor Killough, Josephine McRobbie, Daniel Orr, The IU Food Institute, Harvest Public Media and me, Renee Reed. Our theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey. Earth Eats is produced and edited by Kayte Young and our executive producer is John Bailey.
KAYTE YOUNG: Special thanks this week to Marcia Lawhorn, Lynnell Blakemore, Amanda Nickey, and everyone at the Hub.
Production support comes from Elizabeth Ruh, Enrolled Agent, providing customized financial services for individuals, businesses, disabled adults including tax planning, bill paying, and estate services. More at Personal Financial Services dot net
Bill Brown at Griffy Creek Studio, architectural design and consulting for residential, commercial, and community projects. Sustainable, energy-positive, and resilient design for a rapidly changing world. bill at griffy creek dot studio. Insurance Agent Dan Williamson of Bill Resch Insurance. Offering comprehensive home and auto, business, and life coverage, in affiliation with Pekin Insurance. Beyond the expected. More at bill resch insurance dot com.