Image: Wendell Ward & Delinia Parris
Written by: Mecca Bos
“There’s probably a baby next door to me right now who is going hungry because of shame.”
Wendell Ward, who goes by DJ WOW, or simply WOW, along with his best friend and business partner Delinia Parris, says that the problem with most food distribution organizations is empathy— or lack thereof.
If you don’t know what it’s like to go hungry, he says, you may not know how crucial it is to provide not just food, but compassion.
It’s one thing to be hungry. It’s another to feel bad about being hungry.
When she was newly divorced with three small children, Delinia remembers approaching a church-run food shelf. The experience was so humiliating, she said that she vowed at that moment she would let herself and her young children starve before ever going back.
Healthy food is not a privilege, it is a right
But at the duo’s fledgling Feeding the Dream, a food needs organization by and for the community, WOW and Delinia are inverting some of the basic assumptions about food banks and food shelves.
“We appreciate [our clients]” says Delinia. “We don’t expect people to give us accolades for what we are doing. Healthy food is not a privilege, it is a right. That’s just who I am. I want healthy food for free, with people being treated kindly. That’s the dream.”
Offering a free, no-questions-asked choice based model, anyone can come and get the food on offer at Feeding the Dream, no paperwork, no identification, no stigma. You can even set up a private appointment to receive food.
“We’re not asking for your social security number, or your blood type— that’s just unnecessary for food,” says Delinia.
Rethinking Food Distribution
Removing bureaucratic barriers like paperwork is only one way Feeding the Dream hopes to rethink food distribution. Recalling the days when she was reliant on food shelves, Delinia says too many times she was presented with a bag or box of food that she just couldn't eat. She suffers from many allergies, so peanut butter and wheat bread do not work for her household. Additionally, too many processed foods resulted in a weight problem. Since she’s been adding more vegetables to her diet— vegetables now being the crux of her donation program— she’s lost 170 pounds.
“I’m half the person I used to be just from changing a few things.”
Currently offering a free farmers market, Feeding the Dream has a vision for a free grocery store where everything will look and feel like a standard grocery store— you can even come every day if you like. There’s a misconception in our culture that if a person is in need, they should be happy with whatever is handed to them. But this concept strips people of their dignity, say the partners.
“If you don’t want an eggplant, leave the eggplant,” says Delinia. “I’m not going to chase you down the street with an eggplant.”
“It’s lacking compassion for the person. For the human,” says WOW. “And that emotes onto the person. And that is not help.”
A "Kindness Model"
Inverting the standard food bank model means taking the austerity out of being in need as well. WOW, a DJ, says their planned space includes music sets by him— “If Delinia has her way I’ll be playing show tunes all day,” he jokes.
“It’s a party. We’re here to share with our friends. It’s about people being themselves. You kicking it with your auntie and your uncle— we about to go do some fun stuff.”
Being hungry is already not fun. Feeling interrogated or shamed because you’re hungry, it should go without saying, is inhumane.
Feeding The Dream, they say, is pretty simple. It’s a “kindness model.” Currently operating as a free farmer’s market thanks in part to farm partnerships, clients can arrive and shop for whatever they need, free of charge, with an obvious large helping of human decency as part of the package.
Currently, there is still no permanent food shelf in Frogtown, one of the most ethnically diverse neighborhoods in the Twin Cities, with a high majority of residents experiencing low incomes and high rates of poverty. Feeding the Dream hopes to see their free grocery store open sometime in the next year.
Watch their Facebook Page for updates on Free Farmer’s Market scheduling, holiday meal package giveaways, and other information, or donate here.