Nonprofits handling increased demand for meals, food amid pandemic

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The amount of people in need of food has increased during the coronavirus pandemic, as many people have lost their jobs or gotten pay cuts.

Organizations and food banks said that increase has been big and it’s happened quickly. They say the population needing the help is changing and they’re using new strategies to help families. And with so many people needing food during these times, it’s all hands on deck.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS caught up with St. Paul Police as its staff was handing out food to people throughout the community.

"We actually are delivering bagels out into the community for people in need, so we are driving up and down streets … Any little bit of help from the community and everybody coming together is helpful," said Amber Larson, acting commander with the Community Engagement Unit with the St. Paul Police Department. "Everybody is struggling right now and we all have to come together, as a team, and make sure we are taking care of people who need something."

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Larson added that they’ve handed out more than 8,000 bagels over the course of a week.

Stacie Bellovich said she is without a home right now. KSTP met her as she got food from YMCA Midway through its partnership with Loaves and Fishes.

"This is how we eat, every day. So, on the weekends it’s even harder, but we manage and try to salvage what we can," Bellovich said.

"We are seeing record numbers of people coming through our doors," said Cathy Maes, executive director of Loaves and Fishes.

They’ve gone from serving 3,500 meals per day to about 12,000. It has also increased from 37 food sites to 57 during the pandemic.

The need is so deep, one of its partners ran out of food at its Maplewood location.

"The need in that city seems to be great, and D’Amico Catering stepped in and said, ‘We will help cook’ and have brought extra meals to them," Maes said.

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Maes said she attributes some of the increase in the need for food to people losing their jobs or getting furloughed and losing pay.

"Oh most definitely. Our coordinators have the ability to chat with the guests as they drive through and they’re seeing people who have never had to ask for help before," she said.

Therefore, Loaves and Fishes is getting creative, starting drive-up door pick-up in places like Hope and at its outstate Aitkin dining site.

"The drive-thru method might inform our work moving forward. There’s a level of anonymity," Maes said.

Second Harvest Heartland said it’s also seeing a shift, and it’s all unprecedented. CEO Allison O’Toole said, "We are hearing of an enormous increase in demand."

Challenges have been created through it all.

"It is sometimes really hard to ask for help, and so many new people are having to ask for help … We are seeing so many new faces, and I speak on behalf of this entire network when I say that," O’Toole said. "I just want to reinforce that everyone is welcome."

O’Toole added that they’re seeing record numbers of people applying for SNAP because of COVID-19.

"And we predict that is only going to grow," she explained.

The city of St. Paul is also planning to expand meal distribution to families in need.

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