Social Services

Picture of Community Cooking Chiles

Members of the St. Dominic's Latino Community and Leah Eby (from Growing Up Healthy) chopping chiles for the 5 de Mayo celebration.

By bringing people together, the church has helped the community develop many social services throughout the greater community.  In 2002, Latino parish members began meeting after mass to identify the most critical issues that impacted their quality of life in Northfield.1 The top issue identified was access to healthcare.  Eventually, after further investigation, Latino leaders approached Anglo leaders in the parish and together formulated and distributed a health survey throughout both congregations. The survey results indicated that 7% of the non-Latino and approximately 75% of Latino community members had issues with health care access, insurance, or prescription drug costs.2 

These findings propelled the church leaders to educate and eventually rally support to remodel healthcare infrastructure within the town, and, in 2003, the HealthFinders Collaborative was officially formed. Today, this organization offers bi-weekly free healthcare clinics and makes available prescription medications to low-income community members. Building on the success of HealthFinders, other social services, such as Growing Up Healthy, Thursday’s Table, Meals on Wheels, Pura Vida, and the Community Access Center were created in order to address some of the most pertinent health issues in the community. The services provided by this organization “reaching across both ethnic (Anglo and Latino) and geographic (Northfield and Faribault) boundaries to address pressing issues, making a better place for everyone.”3

These resources are utilized by many different individuals within both the religious and secular Hispanic community in Northfield.  As Sebastian Burst (a community organizer originally from Argentina) states:

“In order to get to Northfield, you have to know someone.  Once you get here, you contact the church and then you go to the community action center.  The community action center provides a lot of information about the community.  They have Thursday’s table where people go and eat for free.  They also have a table with bread and clothes for the community… They [also] have a lady who works with housing.  Sometimes without papers, you can’t easily rent a place.  You have to have someone to help you. Someone who somehow provides information for you.  The CAC, the Link center, there are lots of resources.”4 

Sometimes this “someone” is the Hispanic community at St. Dominic’s.  As the former priest of St. Dominic's, Father Denny, states in an interview, the church is a “funnel for different people within the region,” listening to the needs of congregants, and directing worshippers toward relevant community resources.5 Without a strong relationship between the church, HealthFinders and other social services intended to support the Hispanic community would not function as effectively.

The fluidity between “religious” and “secular” social services is further evident as many of the activities sponsored by secular organizations are held at the Church. St. Dominic’s community members peel red chili peppers in the church kitchen for the 5 de Mayo celebration, Leah Eby, an employee at Growing Up Health, unloads her car which contains gallons of raw maíz and tomato purée purchased for the tamales being prepared for the evening festivities. As Growing Up Healthy, purchases the raw ingredients necessary to prepare the food for this church-affiliated event, the distinction between “secular” and “religious” support is further eroded. 

Leah (from Growing Up Healthy), Lucy, and other St. Dominic Hispanic leaders spend the day in the kitchen, laughing and chatting as they stir huge pots of chili, stuff tamales, and fry tortilla chips all the while singing popular Spanish hymns.

  1. HealthFinders, “Healthfinders: History” http://healthfindersmn.org/about/history (accessed May 5, 2014).

  2. HealthFinders, “Healthfinders: History” http://healthfindersmn.org/about/history (accessed May 5, 2014).

  3. HealthFinders, “Healthfinders: History” http://healthfindersmn.org/about/history (accessed May 5, 2014).

  4. Sabastian Burst, interviewed by Sarah Goldman, April 20, 2014.

  5. Denny Dempsey, interviewed by Sarah Goldman, April 23, 2014.