When Saint Paul Building Trades Construction Council Executive Secretary Don Mullin was standing out on the street motioning cars to come into the IBEW 110 food give away, a woman pulled up to ask him, “Are you really giving away free food?” When Mullin answered in the affirmative, she thanked him and told him her prayers had just been answered on her drive home. “I didn’t know how I was going to feed my family tonight.”

This past winter members of the Minnesota Building Trades put their feet and backs into helping distribute food to struggling people in their communities as part of Round 5 of the Farmers to Families Food Box program, a nationwide Coronavirus Food Assistance Program through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

“The need is great all over,” said Saint Paul Labor Studies and Resource Center’s Erica Dalager-Reed. “You have one in six people in Minnesota living with food insecurities. The need was there before COVID. The need is even greater now.”

The St. Paul Regional Labor Federation under the Labor Studies and Resource Center became a broker of food for the state of Minnesota. Through this arrangement with the USDA, the unions received food deliveries and they proved particularly qualified to distribute it. While food shelves consist mostly of non-perishable pantry items, these food stuffs contain perishable foods such as fresh fruits, vegetables and meat and dairy products. Food trucks arrived on site carrying 40,000 lbs. of food separated into 23 palettes with 70 boxes on each palette. The trade unions provided the equipment to move the food, the manpower required for the heavy lifting, and the space to house the food for pick up. Precautions had to be taken for COVID, so contactless pick ups were done.

Both current and retired union members from across the building trades participated in 22 events just in March alone. The program expires early this spring; there’s hope Congress will extend it again.

Barry Davies, financial secretary/treasurer of Iron Workers Local 512, said, “Helping out was a natural for us. We feel very fortunate because we have worked all year. It’s a chance for us to give back to the community.”

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