Minneapolis church lends location to Loaves and Fishes to provide free meals during COVID-19 crisis

For more than 30 years, Loaves and Fishes has been called Minnesota’s largest free restaurant. Now, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the nonprofit that provides free meals to those in need is expanding.

Loaves and Fishes is opening up shop at a church in the Phillips neighborhood in south Minneapolis.

With unemployment on the rise, food insecurity is becoming a big issue, which Loaves and Fishes hopes to remedy.

“The brand new people who are entering into the system of food insecurity don’t know where to go,” said Cathy Maes, the director of Loaves and Fishes. “They don’t know what a food shelf is. They don’t know what a meal program is. Our phones continue to ring off the hook.”

Life Center welcomed volunteers and those in need of a meal Thursday after suspending services due to the coronavirus.

“We’re doing visits and we’re doing street ministry, but what an awesome thing to be able to give people a hot plate,” said Monica DeLaurentis, pastor of Life Center.

Loaves and Fishes has taken over the location to serve the hot, to-go lunch meals.

The nonprofit typically serves more than 3,000 meals a day, but organizers say that number has more than tripled in just the past two weeks.

“People who haven’t eaten for days are coming into our services and we are so happy and thankful to be able to do this work,” said Maes.

With a high demand for food, Maes says there are also plans in place to open a 39th location in St. Paul in the coming days.

“I think one of the best things about leading an organization like Loaves and Fishes is that I can look out the window at the guests that are walking up right now and see their life and know that the food that we’re giving them is healthy, nutritious, fresh and they’re going to walk away with a real gift,” said Maes.