NEW HOPE, Minn. -- The atmosphere was light inside The Food Group's sprawling food warehouse in the outskirts of Minneapolis, with the persistent chatter of hair net-clad baseball employees occasionally broken by spurts of craziness from Twins mascot T.C. Bear and his St. Paul Saints counterpart, Mudonna.
But beyond that levity was a strong sense of urgency and service -- as there usually is within those walls -- as employees of the Twins and Saints took a day away from work to help the local nonprofit package boxes of essential foods to be distributed to families ahead of the Thanksgiving and holiday seasons.
"It's great to have the Minnesota Twins and Saints support here packing food as we go into the holiday week with Thanksgiving, where there's such a need that increases during the winter months and the holiday season, just with prices of utilities increasing here in the winter in Minnesota making budgets even tighter," said Emily Eddy White, director of advancement and culture at The Food Group.
From fruits and vegetables to nonperishables like pasta and popcorn, representatives of the Twins and the Saints -- the organization's newly minted Triple-A team -- packed staple foods that will eventually be distributed at no cost to families in need around the Upper Midwest community with help from The Food Group's more than 250 partners.
Through those food shelves, food pantries, meal programs and hunger relief partners, relationships cultivated via The Food Group's work in the area since 1976, meals will eventually make their way to households in 32 counties in Minnesota and Western Wisconsin.
"I think as we're heading into this holiday season, where we're talking about gathering with family and friends, usually, we're talking about an abundance of food, having this giant meal," said Kristin Rortvedt, the Twins' director of community relations. "It's just important for us as an organization to remember that there are a lot of people that are dealing with food insecurity, but we still want them to have that same sense of home and to gather together around food."
The partnership that brought around 50 employees of the organizations to New Hope on Friday, all the way up to Twins president and CEO Dave St. Peter, began last offseason in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the Twins organized an event with representatives of The Food Group at Target Field.
That event involved the packing of culturally connected food boxes for families in the area, including emphases on East and West African, Southeast Asian, Latinx and indigenous cultures.
"Food is so important," White said. "It makes us feel seen, and it makes us feel like we belong. Just making sure that the community has those foods that are familiar to them."
"I think one of the things that I like about the Food Group is that they really try to focus on the equity and the inclusion, and they really try to create food boxes that meet the needs of the individual families that they're serving," Rortvedt said. "If a family grew up eating a certain type of food, they want to provide that for them."
With the second year of the partnership between the Twins and The Food Group having led to this organized event, Rortvedt envisions consistent days of service like Friday continuing to integrate into the longstanding service-oriented culture of the Twins and Saints, along with the possibility for people at the ballpark to participate in coming years.
"When we joined with the Saints, I feel like we have a shared value of community engagement," Rortvedt said. "That's something that I think both of our organizations have been committed to for a really long time. ... So my hope is that for other community organizations, they see how really simple it is to come out and serve and volunteer, and it might inspire other people to join us next time."