Loaves and Fishes keeps serving free meals to those in need as pandemic creates record demand

Since the pandemic began, food shelves and meal programs have seen a huge increase in need. One of them is Loaves and Fishes. For 35 years, it has been serving free meals but in the past two months, it’s had to meet record demand.

Inside the kitchen at Brooklyn United Methodist Church, fresh fruit, salad, and street tacos are on the menu. The entire operation is keeping chef Andrew Scott focused and busy.

"The demand is definitely going up there for sure," said Scott. "We’re happy that we can meet them with nutritious good meals."

In July alone, Loaves and Fishes served a record 505,000 free meals. It’s on pace to serve just as many in August. To give some perspective, it's quadrupled from the 130,000 meals it was serving in January and February before the pandemic struck.

"We’re hearing a lot about this long-term unemployment, the inability to afford good food, that our food is really very good," said Loaves and Fishes Executive Director Cathy Maes. "And it’s free, it’s wonderful.”

And increasingly needed for seniors on fixed incomes and families who have lost paychecks from the recession.

Loaves and Fishes has always prided itself in being Minnesota’s largest free restaurant with locations where people could come in, sit down, and have a meal. The pandemic has changed all of that, forced it to go to a go-to model and that may have helped it serve more people.

"And that has added a level of anonymity that people seem to really appreciate right now, and that will inform our work moving forward," said Maes. "That is something that’s important to people and we’ll need to open our doors and invite people to sit down at tables."

All changes to meet the needs of families who are also changed by the pandemic.

"Every day is different," said Scott. "And having this availability is able to sort of meet that need."

“It’s sweet because we can do that," said Maes. "It’s bitter because it hurts your heart that you have to do it. But we’re going to do it and we’re going to keep doing it as long as we can."

Loaves and Fishes has 64 meal sites across the state now. To find the locations, go to loavesandfishesmn.org. You can also make a donation there to support them in their mission.