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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Community leaders says the COVID-19 pandemic is magnifying existing health disparities in the Native American population.

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One group is using food to address that, nourishing bodies and souls.

For Chef Brian Yazzie, who only cooks with Indigenous ingredients, cooking is a chance to make a statement.

“I came up with the philosophy of cooking in two worlds, ancestral knowledge with modern techniques,” Yazzie said.

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Cooking has also carved a path for Chef Yazzie to serve his community during the pandemic.

“I started looking at ways to contribute and to help the cause, especially within the Native community,” Yazzie said.

For weeks, Chef Yazzie and a team at the Gatherings Cafe in south Minneapolis have been preparing dozens of carefully-curated meals five days a week that are delivered to Native elders around Minneapolis. The dishes use mostly Indigenous ingredients.

“I try to push to add more Indigenous ingredients to it, especially with the elders because food is medicine, and during this pandemic we need all types of ways, you know, to heal ourselves,” Yazzie said.

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Chef Brian Yazzie (credit: CBS)

Mary LaGarde, executive director of the Minneapolis American Indian Center, says support for Native elders is critical right now.

“It’s been a challenging time, I think for everybody,” LaGarde said. “The health disparities that our community faces are so great that we’re really taking steps to help to prevent that so that, you know, our community is healthy.”

The nourishment is needed, but the connection is just as important.

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“This is a way that we can not only provide a meal, but also check in and to make sure that, you know, our elders are doing well,” LaGarde said.

It’s a reminder that somebody cares.

“I’m also a servant to the community, so I will always find ways to help with food,” Yazzie said.

The Minneapolis American Indian Center is funding this program with a grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield. It is serving more than 100 meals five days a week, and plans to continue at least through May.

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Erin Hassanzadeh