The Food Group doubles its food distribution to help families in Minnesota and Wisconsin

Volunteer James Gottfried (left) packs food for The Food Group, a nonprofit that serves families in 32 counties in Minnesota and Wisconsin. (FOX 9)

The Food Group, formerly known as The Emergency Shelf Network, has been serving families for more than 40 years. But in its history, it's never had the demand it's now seeing during the pandemic.

Inside a warehouse in New Hope, Minnesota, an operation is underway to help feed the hungry. Bins of jasmine rice are being bagged, sealed, and repacked by a small group of volunteers.

"We work really hard to get healthy and culturally-relevant foods out to our food shelf partners," explained Sophia Lenarz-Coy, the Food Group's executive director.

Lenarz-Coy says that the need for food is at historic highs as we entered the ninth month of the COVID-19 crisis.

"We're seeing folks who have never struggled with food insecurity before," she explained.

While driving up need, COVID-19 is also changing how The Food Group helps fill that need.

"We shrunk our volunteer groups," explained Lenarz-Coy. "So, now we need more frequent groups of fewer people so we can maintain that social distancing."

The Food Group serves 32 counties in Minnesota and Wisconsin and is doubling its food distribution to keep up with demand.

"The most inspiring part of 2020 is how the community has stepped up," said Lenarz-Coy.

"If you can't donate money, time is the next best thing," added volunteer James Gottfried.

Gottfried says he started volunteering with the group after he lost his job at the start of the pandemic.

"They always tell us the number of families we've served per person, and that is pretty cool," he said. "You walk out of here with a little pride."

"Food has this amazing power to show that we care about each other," Lenarz-Coy added.