Who The Folk?! Stephanie Stillman

Stephanie Stillman’s path to being the volunteer coordinator at Second Harvest Heartland is a winding path, but it is one that strengthened her connection to her Jewish roots. Stephanie talks about food insecurity, her farming experience, and the meaning behind a very cool tattoo, on this week’s Who The Folk?! Podcast.

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Tell me about what you do at Second Harvest Heartland, for starters, and then a little bit more about for those who don’t know what the organization does.

So Second Harvest Heartland is a food bank. You can also kind of think of it as a distribution center where we bring in a lot of produce and bulk goods that end up getting distributed to agency partners, which is food and shelves meal programs. We’re putting out about 103 million pounds of food every year. That was the stat from last year. And as a volunteer coordinator, I’m helping to bring in volunteers. We get 1,000 pounds of potatoes in and we need to break that down into two- to three-pound bags of potatoes so that when they’re given to the food shelf, people who are coming to get the food can get grocery size style rather than bulk. So the volunteers are helping with that. We’re bringing in about 24,000 volunteers a year. I’m helping to answer those questions and bring those groups in.

The need for what Second Harvest heartland does is only growing, right?

It is only growing, which is unfortunate because you would want the trend to be going the opposite direction. The number is about 1-in-9 or 1-in-10 people are hungry. And so what we talked about is that leaves nine of us to help. So that’s our focus, and we’re going out, working to get people in to help it’s to help people who are in need.

So how many different food banks are there in the Twin Cities that you help distribute to? And are there other organizations like yours doing the same thing?

We are working with 1,000 agency partners and programs. And so that means that we have food shelves that we’re working with, and also working with specific meal programs, different school programs. And so that list is extensive.

What is it that drew you to the work and the organization?

That’s a great question, and it’s probably more of a story to get there. Can I take you back? So I went to college at the University of Kansas, for probably no other reason than my sister. went there before me and it felt like the right choice at the time. But while I was there I majored in anthropology, and I took one class called “Meat and Drink in America,” which was fascinating to me. I think it was a final paper, you had to choose what you want to research and I researched the kosher meat industry, which I didn’t know much about. I think it was just a few years prior there was a big scandal with a kosher meatpacking facility, and so that’s what I ended up researching. What my paper turned into was the trust that we have of a label and how crazy that was to me. So I thought the scandal was just fascinating to expanding that just beyond kosher of just everything that is labeled. We trust it.

I wanted to peel back the curtain a little bit. And so after college, I found my way to an urban farm in California call Urban Adamah, which is urban agriculture with a Jewish focus. I got to learn more about growing my own food and urban environment. I also learned more about social inequity around food, the impact that big farms have on the environment. So I was learning about sustainability in terms of food environment, and religion as well, and I loved growing food. How I got the Second Harvest is basically I have a passion for the food for food and environment and Second Harvest ended up being a great fit for me just to continue that type of work.