Minneapolis woman's sweet potato pies provide comfort after George Floyd's death

Communities around the U.S. are volunteering to help with Rose McGee's efforts.

June 10, 2020, 2:00 PM

For one Minneapolis woman, the idea to comfort communities during times of struggle with homemade food was as easy as pie.

Sweet Potato Comfort Pie founder Rose McGee told "Good Morning America" about her recipe for success for baking and donating the traditional Southern dessert to nurture relationships in the community especially during times of grief.

PHOTO: The George Floyd memorial site where volunteers delivered sweet potato pies on June 1, 2020.
The George Floyd memorial site where volunteers delivered sweet potato pies on June 1, 2020.
Sweet Potato Comfort Pies volunteer

McGee, who started the grassroots nonprofit in 2014 after Michael Brown's death in Ferguson, Missouri, said that after George Floyd's death in Minneapolis police custody shook her hometown, she knew exactly how to help.

PHOTO: Rose McGee at the George Floyd memorial delivering her Sweet Potato Comfort Pies.
Rose McGee at the George Floyd memorial delivering her Sweet Potato Comfort Pies.
Shep Harris

"Each one of these situations have been horrific -- but there was an urgency here and people were contacting me about when are we gonna make pies," she said. "I'm sitting here and it's still in the middle of COVID, I knew I couldn't get into kitchens and bring volunteers in, so I found myself making pies."

"It was really painful for me to see brown and black faces who just looked so hopeless and I just wanted to do something for the community," McGee continued. "What prompted me to respond was curfew. I'm sitting here watching young people that I love in the streets leading this as the streets are burning -- and I said I can't go to sleep -- I'm gonna sit up all night."

PHOTO: A prepped sweet potato pie made by a volunteer before being baked and delivered.
A prepped sweet potato pie made by a volunteer before being baked and delivered.
Hannah Carney

On Sunday morning McGee said to herself, "I'm gonna make pies to stay up," as the protests carried on. "And later in the day it occurred to me, 'no, let other people help make pies at home tonight too, 'cause they're at home too.'"

PHOTO: Two sweet potato pies in the oven to be delivered to the Minneapolis community.
Two sweet potato pies in the oven to be delivered to the Minneapolis community.
Sweet Potato Comfort Pies volunteer

McGee, a project officer at the Minnesota Humanities Center, created a Facebook live event to teach anyone who wanted to volunteer how to make sweet potato pies.

PHOTO: A Sweet Potato Comfort Pie baked by Kate Towle.
A Sweet Potato Comfort Pie baked by Kate Towle.
Kate Towle

"I said, 'what I want you to do is be in your kitchen, with your family if you wish, make the pies and then tomorrow those who are here and want to join me we're going to take the pies to the memorial site and over to the NAACP site at Shiloh Church and we're going to give pies out to people."

"The next day I wasn't expecting it but there was quite a little caravan of people at my home -- we got over there and realized that the ones that we need to give the pies to here are the volunteers -- who have been working and serving water and food -- in the sun all day," McGee said.

PHOTO: A group of Sweet Potato Comfort Pie volunteers with Rose McGee on June 1 to distribute pies to their community in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
A group of Sweet Potato Comfort Pie volunteers with Rose McGee on June 1 to distribute pies to their community in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Sweet Potato Comfort Pies volunteer Jen Sampson

After delivering pies at the George Floyd memorial site, volunteer Hannah Carney said, "the experience fundamentally changed me and those in the space."

PHOTO: Matthew Seawood and his mother Andrena Seawood with sweet potato pie at the George Floyd memorial.
Matthew Seawood and his mother Andrena Seawood with sweet potato pie at the George Floyd memorial.
Andrena Seawood

"Witnessing the joy and strength that our pies brought to people who accepted them was transformative. I could see and feel change happening in real time," Carney told "Good Morning America."

McGee, 69, said she organized a second Facebook tutorial event to help the other hard-hit community in the Twin Cities region.

PHOTO: Rose McGee (center) delivers her Sweet Potato Comfort Pies at the George Floyd memorial in Minnesota.
Rose McGee (center) delivers her Sweet Potato Comfort Pies at the George Floyd memorial in Minnesota.
Mayor Shep Harris

"I realized we got to do the same thing for St. Paul. So I went back on again and this time we got even more people to participate," she said, adding that a local chef volunteered with a full staff of bakers who tapped into their resources of commercial kitchens to make over 50 pies.

The Sweet Potato Comfort Pies' core group of volunteers comprises 20 people, according to McGee, but with the rise in interest she said "many other groups of organized bakers have reached out to see how they can do similar in their communities."

PHOTO: Sweet Potato Comfort pies delivered to a local florist shop in Minneapolis.
Sweet Potato Comfort pies delivered to a local florist shop in Minneapolis.
Katie Towle

"Right now if we can just get people to bring some calm in their communities and if sweet potato pie is the way to do it, then great, that's the way to do it," McGee said. "We're hoping that more people continue to join in."

These beautiful pies have not only fed and comforted during times of trauma -- they have sparked a greater dialogue on the power of food with rich historical meaning.

PHOTO: Matthew Seawood delivers a sweet potato pie with Golden Valley Mayor Shep Harris at the George Floyd memorial.
Matthew Seawood delivers a sweet potato pie with Golden Valley Mayor Shep Harris at the George Floyd memorial.
Andrena Seawood

"It's more than about just making a pie," McGee explained. "What's so important is we have reflections afterwards about what happened ... talk about what [volunteers'] experience was like being at the memorial and now what can you do in your community to help strengthen that -- and help move justice forward. That's what I'm hoping we can get out of this, that people can start talking and more so listening to each other respectfully."

PHOTO: Sweet Potato Comfort Pie delivery at the Semilla Center for Healing and the Arts, in South Minneapolis.
Sweet Potato Comfort Pie delivery at the Semilla Center for Healing and the Arts, in South Minneapolis.
Kate Towle

"That's what our communities need," Carney added, "transformed systems and structures and a transformed culture. Sweet Potato Comfort Pie is love in action. I don't know a better way to describe it."

Kate Towle, another volunteer, told ABC News she took pies to local "businesses on Lake St. in Minneapolis impacted by our tragedy" as well as to the Semilla Center for Healing and the Arts, in South Minneapolis, where artist Greta McLain -- whose painting of George Floyd at his memorial site at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue has become world renowned.

PHOTO: 50 sweet potato pies baked at Create Catering in Minneapolis for a delivery at Arts Us in St. Paul, Minnesota.
50 sweet potato pies baked at Create Catering in Minneapolis for a delivery at Arts Us in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Nicky Metchnek

"My heart is full of the extraordinary love and inextricable web of connection of our beloved community," Towle said. "All discovered by a few brave and humble Sweet Potato Comfort Pies."

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