Nonprofit and business partners feed thousands as hunger spreads

Loaves & Fishes now focuses on take-out and delivery meal services.
Photo by Analise Pruni

Prior to COVID-19, Loaves & Fishes, a local organization committed to providing healthy meals to any Minnesotan in need, was serving around 3,500 meals daily. After the pandemic hit, donations have helped fuel a new to-go model of meal services that is providing around 11,000 to 12,000 meals a day.

“The core of our mission is feeding people who are in need hot nutritious meals,” said Fishes & Loaves Executive Director Cathy Maes. “We do that seven days a week at over 56 locations right now.”

To keep everyone safe during the pandemic and replace more traditional meal halls, Loaves & Fishes now operates with delivery trucks making runs to pick-up sites.

“A lot of people drive up, walk up, they don’t come in and eat; we’re trying to keep everybody safe,” Maes said. “That has kind of informed our work that there’s a certain level of confidence and anonymity in that model, so we’re seeing a lot of new people.”

Maes added that they deliver many meals to those experiencing homelessness in Minneapolis, St. Paul and the surrounding areas. “Our numbers have been soaring down near Little Earth, near the Powderhorn area,” Maes said. “African Americans down on Lake Street, that has been a population [in need] that has increased, so it’s really kind of site-specific.”

As the number of seniors utilizing the meal services “skyrocket,” she said that neighbors and community members have been coming to pick up and deliver the food to the aging population who are shut in because of the coronavirus. 

Community partnerships, donations, and most recently a $7,000 grant from Wireless Zone, a local Verizon Wireless franchise, have helped supplement this meal service in a time when hunger in Minnesota is being experienced by many more people.

Bob Cheney, local Wireless Zone franchisee owner, started teaming up with Loaves & Fishes in 2008 through his church group. Wireless Zone’s “Foundation for Giving” allows franchisee members to donate and serve communities in need.

Cheney said that since 2011 his franchise has been able to donate around $50,000 to Loaves & Fishes. The most recent $7,000 went immediately towards supporting the to-go model and keeping the company up and running through the pandemic.

With expenses for gas in the delivery trucks, to-go containers, and “rescuing food,” the $7,000 was spent quickly in June. “Right when all of the universities closed and the restaurants and the corporations, there was a ton of food in the system that needed to be recovered,” Maes said. “So we had seven trucks out every single day rescuing food, and our gas expenses just went through the roof.”

Loaves & Fishes has also partnered with metro-area YMCAs. The food is prepared and delivered to the YMCAs and then distributed there from 12-1 pm each day, totaling around 5,500 meals per day.

Minnesota Central Kitchen and catering companies have also stepped up to help prepare meals and fill the demand. Meals might be anything from spaghetti casserole to fried chicken, but they always include fresh fruit or vegetables.

“It’s been fascinating how quickly we’ve been able to move when you’re in the middle of a crisis,” Maes reflected. “Decisions can be made a lot faster without a whole lot of strategic planning. It makes you question, ‘Just because we’ve always done it that way, do we need to keep doing it this way?’”

Cheney added that he hopes to continue the partnership. “Our central mission, where my own personal company is enhancing lives and connecting people in a remarkable way, I think that’s what they do at Loaves and Fishes, and we’re very pleased to be a part of that.”