In the Wake of George Floyd’s Death, This Woman Brought Her Minneapolis Community Comfort Through Baking
Rose McGee bakes sweet potato pies for grieving communities all over the country. This year, she found herself serving sweet relief in her own backyard.
On the first night of the police curfew in Minneapolis last summer, Rose McGee barely slept. “People I know were out on the streets,” says the 69-year-old resident of nearby Golden Valley. “I was worried.”
McGee decided to stay up the following night and bake sweet potato pies. She doesn’t really like to cook, but in times of crisis she often turns her kitchen into a pastry factory. This time, she also went on Facebook to invite others to swing by, pick up a pie, and take it to someone in need of comfort—or at least, comfort food.
In the morning, dozens of neighbors congregated around McGee’s front porch. Many had brought their own homemade pies to share. “It was surreal,” McGee says. Together, they delivered their baked goods first to mourners at George Floyd’s memorial site, just 14 miles away, and then to protestors and volunteers at the Minneapolis branch of the NAACP. The following weekend, they took dozens more to a makeshift food distribution center in St. Paul, where many grocery stores had been destroyed.
Sadly, McGee has made Sweet Potato Comfort Pies, as she calls them, all too often in recent years. She baked her first batch in 2014, after news broke of unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, following the police killing of Michael Brown. McGee drove more than 500 miles to Ferguson to personally deliver the 30 pies she had made. The next year, she shipped more to Charleston, South Carolina, where nine worshippers had been shot dead at the Mother Emanuel AME Church. In 2018, she sent a kosher batch to Pittsburgh in the wake of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting. Tragedy also struck closer to home. McGee’s pies comforted those in and around Minneapolis after police officers fatally shot Jamar Clark in 2015 and Philando Castile in 2016.
McGee, who works for the Minnesota Humanities Center, an educational council and community resource, also hosts an annual pie-baking event to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.—the group made 91 this year, to mark the age he would’ve been if he were alive. In a sense, he is, at least in the participants’ discussions of how they can foster relationships and social justice. “As people carry these pies, they’re able to have dialogues, able to listen to each other,” McGee says. “If we don’t start listening more, I don’t know how we’ll ever be able to move forward. The pies are simply the catalyst for that.” Next, these uplifting stories of neighbors helping during coronavirus will inspire you to do the same.