ST. CLOUD -- The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed daily life for everyone who calls Minnesota home.

Hudda Ibrahim, owner and president of St. Cloud business consulting firm Filsen Talent Partners, says she's aware of area residents openly questioning whether Somali-owned businesses have adjusted their operations to remain in compliance with Minnesota Governor Tim Walz's coronavirus-fighting executive orders.

Ibrahim, who works closely with local Somali businesses, says they continue to take the pandemic very seriously. Those who have been allowed to stay open have made sweeping changes to how they do business.

Mogadishu Grocery, located inside a mini-mall along Division Street in St. Cloud, limits how many customers can be inside the shop at one time, and offers curbside grocery pick-up. Another essential business located inside Mogadishu, a money transfer station, remains open, with social distancing enforced. The mall's clothing store is closed, and an adjacent restaurant is only allowing takeout - much like every other local restaurant, Ibrahim says.

“I’ve seen (the store owner) reminding people to socially distance and come in one at a time,” Ibrahim explained. “They’re doing everything they can to make sure that people are safe.”

It's not uncommon to see a full parking lot at Mogadishu Grocery; Ibrahim says most parked vehicles are full of customers waiting for their curbside groceries to be brought out of the store. Ibrahim, who also uses Mogadishu's curbside pickup service, says the store and its customers have adapted well to the temporary change.

“I don’t think people should pay too much attention to the cars parked outside - Somali customers are just there to have their food delivered,” Ibrahim said. “They are waiting inside their cars. So, it’s just ridiculous for people to assume that immigrant communities aren’t practicing social distancing.”

Like many Somali people, Ibrahim shops at a variety of stores, including Coborn’s and Byerly’s. She says Somali grocery stores are essential to daily life because they carry a specific range of items, such as halal meat, that shoppers can’t find anywhere else.

"When it comes to social distancing and following orders, these stores are no different than other grocery stores out there,” said Ibrahim. “ Of course people are shopping. The majority of our elderly people, and even younger people who might not be fluent in English, are comfortable going into those stores where they can find items that they know they like that are from their home country.”

Ibrahim says many Somali-owned businesses in St. Cloud remain behind the curve when it comes to technology - a gap she works to address in her professional life. Many shops don’t have websites or offer online ordering, making them slightly more invisible in an economy where a majority of commerce is done online.

“Most Somali businesses don’t have that online ordering infrastructure,” Ibrahim said. “There are two restaurants that are members of Food Dudes (delivery service). I’m learning a lot myself; COVID-19 has exposed a lot of existing gaps.”

Ibrahim says many elderly and vulnerable Somali people have stopped leaving home entirely in order to hinder their potential exposure to COVID-19. For those who aren't fluent in English, Ibrahim, in partnership with other local community leaders, is translating materials from the Minnesota Department of Health and other government and health organizations from English to Somali. St. Cloud Somali Television has been keeping residents up-to-date on the latest news, Ibrahim adds.

“Religious leaders and business owners like myself are informing our community about the pandemic,” Ibrahim said. “We’re telling them to stay home, to social distance, to wash their hands and cover their mouths when they cough. We’re reading the newspaper, we’re listening to the news. We’re taking that information and sharing it with our loved ones.”

Ibrahim encourages all St. Cloud residents to visit and support minority-owned businesses that continue to remain open during the pandemic.

“Buy local,” Ibrahim stressed. “Invest in our local businesses. No matter who they’re owned by. It doesn’t really matter. This is a time when we need to support one another, and educate ourselves about these unknown fears we may have.”

“It's very frustrating when there are all these rumors circulating through our community,” she added. “It’s important for all of us to help one another get through this troubled time, and stop stoking unnecessary fears toward immigrants or minority-owned businesses. We need to stop."

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