Image for Interview with Kelly Miller, Director of Department of Indian Work

Interfaith Action’s Department of Indian Work is a longtime partner of the co-op, and they will be our Positive Change recipient in November 2021. Learn more about their critical work by reading our Q&A with director Kelly Miller!

What is Department of Indian Work’s mission and vision for the American Indian community? What are your broader goals for the American Indian community?

We will always be here and happy to provide our families with more basic and emergency needs such as food, clothing or gas to get to a funeral, but we also want to be able to help them uplift their economic mobility and focus on their bigger goals. We will do what we can to help families get to the next step where our services aren’t needed and we can start to break that generational poverty.

We were able to purchase our delivery van at the height of when the pandemic first started and can now deliver to families that have limited access to transportation, are homebound, or for whatever reason are not able to get to us.

We were created to serve American Indian families and our focus will always be the American Indian community, but no matter who you are, you’re welcomed and you’re greeted with respect at our food shelf.

What makes Department of Indian Work’s food shelf unique?

We’re the only SuperShelf food shelf for the American Indian community in the state of Minnesota. In 2019, we did a complete overhaul on our food shelf and started emphasizing what is nutritious, spending more money on those fresh fruits and vegetables, and placing them up front right when you walk in.

Another thing that makes our food shelf so special is our staff. The people we serve say the staff at DIW is friendly, respectful, and greets you by name when you walk in the door. I like to say we’re a family and we treat our families like family. When you’re part of a family and someone is going through a tough time, then that’s where your family comes in to support you. DIW is the family support for those hard times, a trusted community resource for the people we serve.

What is coming up next for Department of Indian Work?

We are currently looking for a new space to move into as we have outgrown our current food shelf and clothing closet after 69 years in this same space. We have seen a 150% increase in usage in the past year and need to continue operating at this higher level. Stay tuned for a new location announcement later this fall!

How can co-op shoppers best support the food shelf right now? Or maybe Department of Indian Work in general?

Donating food, money or even your time all are very helpful for us. Financial assistance in particular is always great because we can stretch that dollar further at the food shelf. Once we move this winter, we will also be accepting clothing donations again.

What are the most needed items at the food shelf right now?

Baking items, peanut butter, tuna, kids’ snacks, and hygiene items such as masks, hand sanitizer, laundry soap, dish soap, shampoos and conditioners.

Beyond the food shelf, what are some of the other support services and programs DIW offers?

DIW has three main focus areas plus a COVID-specific program right now:

  1. Emergency services: food shelf, clothing closet, and referrals and resources.
  2. American Indian youth enrichment program: an after-school and summer program for American Indian youth, grades 1 through 8, in Saint Paul.
  3. Family Education Diabetes Series: FEDS focuses on diabetes prevention, maintenance and education.
  4. COVID-19 Community Coordinators: current partnership with Minnesota Department of Health to serve as a COVID-19 resource hotline for the American Indian community in the Twin Cities, host vaccine and testing events, and give families accurate COVID-19 information in a timely manner.

This fall as we think ahead to Native American Heritage Month, Thanksgiving, and other celebrations, are there any events or ways the food shelf will be celebrating with special meals that the co-op can support?

We do a Thanksgiving meal every year even though some of our families don’t celebrate Thanksgiving. For example, my family doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving in the traditional Thanksgiving way, but we use it as a time to have a meal, spend time with our family and celebrate each other rather than celebrate the history of that day. We create 250 Thanksgiving bags that have a turkey, real Native wild rice, onions, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and more. You can help support Thanksgiving meals directly by donating during the month of November.