Loaves & Fishes serves free, healthy meals to Minnesotans in urban, suburban and rural communities; wherever the need is greatest. The nonprofit has made major changes to meet the record demand for food.
"We fill a void," said Loaves & Fishes Executive Director Cathy Maes. "We sit in a space that is somewhere somewhere between a food shelf where people get groceries and then a program where they're served a meal or lunch or dinner along with the program. We are a meal program; the largest free restaurant in Minnesota."
According to Loaves & Fishes, they served 1,360,720 free meals in 2019. In 2020 that jumped to 4,400,000. And in 2021 they're still serving more than 300,000 meals a month and will top 4,000,000 free meals for the year.
To meet that record demand for food and help even more Minnesota families, Loaves & Fishes representatives realized they needed to change some things. In-person dining sites were eliminated for safety reasons. Instead of cooking meals at each of their 32 locations in Minnesota, they created a commissary kitchen in partnership with Urban Ventures and Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in south Minneapolis.
In the new kitchen they prepare large amounts of food; main courses that are delivered to sites like River Heights Vineyard Church in Inver Grove Heights. The crew there makes nutritious sides to go with the entrées. Then they box the meals up and distribute them using a to-go model that has been more popular than expected; perhaps because of the anonymity it offers.
It's all driven by a handful of loyal staff at each site and cheerful volunteers who have worked through the pandemic.
"It makes them feel good," Mona Moorhead, site coordinator in Inver Grove Heights, said. "It makes the guests feel good. It makes the volunteers feel good."
"I do this because it helps me give back to the community," volunteer Patrick Hendricks said.
"We get to know our clients," volunteer Craig Bickel said. "We ask them about how their day is. You know, and it's kind of fulfilling, just to make friends even if it's through a window."
If food is love, Loaves & Fishes is handing out love at each of its 32 sites.
"We are doing the best we can," Moorhead said.
And because the need is great, Loaves & Fishes has plans to expand from 32 sites to 40 by the end of 2022.
"Yes, that is part of our strategic plan," Maes said. "To move into new markets, whether that's St Cloud, Duluth or Mankato, to meet the needs in in larger hub cities."
Everyone is welcome, no questions asked.
"And that's why we are thankful that you give," Maes said.
Loaves & Fishes relies on the generosity of people who donate their time and treasure and believe that you get back what you give. Click here if you'd like to help.
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