Some Minneapolis residents have been on the receiving end of an unexpected gift arriving at their homes this week.
“My whole neighborhood in north Minneapolis got these food boxes,” one Reddit user said on Monday. An enclosed picture showed a gallon of milk, a bag of onions, some sour cream, and a folded letter from the White House. This was, if appearances were to be believed, a gift sent by President Donald Trump.
My whole neighborhood in North Minneapolis got these food boxes. I feel like we were targeted to try and buy votes. Of course Trump sent a letter with to make sure we knew it was his "good"deed. from r/Minneapolis
“I feel like we were targeted to try and buy votes,” the poster said. “Of course Trump sent a letter with [it] to make sure we knew it was his ‘good’ deed.”
In a subsequent reply, the original poster says they live in the Cleveland neighborhood, and are not enrolled in any aid program.
"It was on every doorstep on my street," the user wrote.
In a private Facebook group for the Victory neighborhood, also in North, one resident posted photos of the same box, adding: "I'm confused as to why I received this..."
These boxes are part of a $4 billion coronavirus food assistance program, sometimes called Farmers to Families Food Boxes, which was announced back in April.
Basically, the United States Department of Agriculture buys fresh produce and other products from “American producers of all sizes.” Then it’s packed into family-sized boxes and distributed to food banks, community groups, and “other nonprofits serving Americans in need.”
The idea is to help a few groups that have really been hit hard by COVID-19 at once. Farmers and ranchers offload surplus products, and hungry people get food.
First of all, yes – President Donald Trump signed off on this one. He gave a few remarks on the program back in August, after going on about news being fake and what Joe Biden was or wasn’t up to at the time and calling novel coronavirus “the China virus" (y'know, like an asshole).
“I just looked at a couple of those boxes, and I said, ‘I want to have something right now,’” he said. The audience chuckled a little. “But they thought it would be inappropriate because I was coming up to speak, but beautiful-looking stuff.”
It’s not the food itself that’s raising the most eyebrows. It’s the letters included with it, which have been creeping their way into the boxes over the past few months.
“Dear Family,” it begins warmly. “As president, safeguarding the health and well-being of our citizens is one of my highest priorities. As part of our response to coronavirus, I prioritized sending nutritious food from our farmers to families in need throughout America.”
The letter also asks the reader to do their best to prevent the spread of disease, including washing hands, staying home if they’re sick, and “consider[ing] wearing a face covering when in public.”
It closes: “Sincerely, Donald J. Trump, President of the United States.”
Some recipients (and nonprofit distributors) are questioning whether it’s right for Trump to put his name (and his name alone) on something that is being provided by the federal government, mere weeks before Election Day. Especially, some critics say, in light of his repeated attempts to cut or curtail other government food assistance programs, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
On Sunday, a federal judge struck down a Trump administration effort to end food stamp benefits for nearly 700,000 people who are out of work… all while the pandemic has “quadrupled” unemployment and grown SNAP’s rosters by more than 6 million people. The Washington Post called the 67-page opinion, written by Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl A. Howell, “scathing.”
Trump’s Agriculture Department, he wrote, has been “icily silent” about how many people would have been denied SNAP benefits at a time of unprecedented need, had the administration gotten its way.
A number of Democratic members of Congress signed a letter in August accusing Trump of “using a federal relief program to distribute a self-promoting letter… just three months before the presidential election.” Some food distribution nonprofits, like Philabundance in Philadelphia, have taken the liberty of pulling the letter from the box and replacing it with voter registration information.
A free orange given under false or misleading pretenses is still a free orange. Several Minnesotans who have posted about getting their food boxes say they’re sharing the bounty with neighbors, and one said he'd be "eating Trump food on my way to vote blue." But it doesn’t mean they don’t find the gesture, as the Reddit poster succinctly said, “fucking weird.”