Our Response to Coronavirus

Providing Urgently Needed Meals Around-the-Clock

During the COVID-19 outbreak, demand for emergency food assistance hit historic highs. At the height of the pandemic, 1 in 9 Minnesotans faced hunger. Second Harvest Heartland responded to this new surge in hunger, which spread in lockstep with the economic downturn and affected many people who have never sought food assistance before.

While vaccines are now widely available and many economic indicators are rebounding, 1 in 10 Minnesotans—including 1 in 7 kids—are still facing hunger. With your help, we are continuing to keep our neighbors well and fed.

Our Covid-19 Plan


  • Stepped-up distribution. We experienced a hunger crisis unlike anything seen since the Great Depression. An additional 275,000 Minnesotans—including 112,000 kids—faced hunger. To meet the increase in need, we covered transportation costs, provided emergency and extra food deliveries, face masks and more to our nearly 1,000 food shelf and other hunger-relief partners. Learn about the worst of the COVID-19 surge in hunger.
  • Emergency food boxes. Hundreds of thousands of emergency food boxes have allowed people to get the food they need via low-exposure curbside pickup.
  • Emergency grocery pop-ups. Free drive-up events across the region enable us to share hundreds of thousands of pounds of fresh produce, milk, protein and other foods and products despite the pandemic.
  • Meals and supplies for Twin Cities communities in need. Following the murder of George Floyd, the destruction of local grocery stores and businesses created new food deserts in the Twin Cities. We responded with increased food distribution and support in the affected areas. Learn more about our response here.
  • Meals from Minnesota Central Kitchen (MCK). Local caterers and restaurateurs collaborate with us to distribute thousands of meals per day at more than 50 sites run by meal program partners. MCK sites have served over 1.7M meals since launching in March 2020. Learn more about MCK.
  • Access to SNAP (Food Stamps). Calls to our SNAP hotline more than doubled when the outbreak began and SNAP referrals remain almost 50% higher when compared to pre-COVID numbers. Learn more about our SNAP outreach work.
  • Extra measures to keep our teams and our food safe. We stepped up our already rigorous cleaning routines.

Our Progress

Community updates

Join us for regular community updates where we gather hunger-relief experts to discuss our response to the local need for food.

July 14, 2021 - VIDEO Community Update: Summer Food Service Program

During the school year, more than 40 percent of kids in kindergarten through high school in Minnesota are eligible for free or reduced-price meals. However, when school lets out for the summer, children may not have access to the nutritious meals they need.

That’s where the USDA Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) comes in, working to provide free meals to all children and teens 18 years old and younger through school and community partners.

Jerry Sparby, Executive Director at Yes Network, Tashawna Williams, Arts and Engagement Specialist with the Parks and Recreation Department at the City of Brooklyn Park, and Sara Eugene, Extended Meals Coordinator for Minneapolis Public Schools joined us for this discussion.

June 15, 2021 - VIDEO Community Update: FOODRx

Bridging the gap between health care and nutrition. That's what our unique-in-the-nation FOODRx program does.

Chronic disease among people facing hunger is significantly more prevalent than it is within the general population. A third of food shelf clients live with diabetes, and nearly half live with high blood pressure. Our FOODRx food boxes are an easy way for health care teams to connect their patients to nutritious food and education.

In our June 15 presser, we were joined by Rose Robinson from University of Minnesota Physicians, Michael Koch from North Memorial Health's ACO and Network Management division, and Fred Naaktgeboren from Buffalo Food Shelf, facilitated by FOODRx Program Manager Jana Martin.

May 18, 2021 - VIDEO Community Update: Filling plates, not landfills

Through our Food Rescue program, we reduce food waste by working with manufacturing, retail and agricultural partners to divert safe, edible food from ending up in landfills and providing it to people who need it.

Partners Lunds — Byerlys and 360 Communities joined our Retail Food Rescue Team to talk about the state of food rescue and how we can all pitch in to ensure the program is as expansive as possible.

March 25, 2021 - VIDEO Community Update: Meeting the Moment: Adapting to fight new hunger

Throughout the past year, our neighbors have needed more help staying fed and well than ever before. Getting food to people safely was an around-the-clock effort, requiring us to reinvent our service model again and again. On the front lines of our emergency response have been Second Harvest Heartland team members—a crew who diligently kept at their work to deliver 105 million meals last year to our partners and programs in the community.

Hear directly from these frontline team members about the year that was and the work ahead.

February 9, 2021 - VIDEO Community Update: Hunger is a crisis hidden in plain sight on college campuses—or buried under assumptions about dorm food, take-out pizza, and dollar ramen. But when we understand a problem, we can solve it.

We’re joined by Rebecca Leighton of University of Minnesota Boynton Health, Chef Beth Jones from Campus Club at the University of Minnesota, and Lisa Harris and Nikki Jagodzinski from Anoka-Ramsey Community College.

December 15, 2020 - VIDEO Community Update: As the pandemic drags on without a new COVID relief package from Congress, tens of thousands of Minnesotans are two weeks away from facing a Minnesota winter with no income whatsoever. Our local organizations are doing everything they can to serve those on the brink of poverty.

Join us for a discussion on the intersection of hunger and housing and what we can do regardless of Congressional action with Neighborhood House, Involve MN, and Minnesota Housing's Prevent and End Homelessness.

November 24, 2020 - VIDEO Community Update: How do you save rescued food, keep culinary workers employed AND provide more than one million meals to hungry Minnesotans? Learn more from Minnesota Central Kitchen partner and chef, David Fhima and our own Emily Paul to discuss just these questions and what's yet to come.

November 10, 2020 - VIDEO Community Update: Despite strategic adaptations from the hunger-relief community, demand for emergency food has hit historic highs and we’re seeing troubling trends in who is hungry—communities of color have been especially hard hit by COVID-era hunger.

Join us as we discuss the short term solutions and long term change needed to address this disparity, with guests from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, Amherst H. Wilder Foundation and Kandiyohi County Food Shelf.

October 15, 2020 - VIDEO Community Update: Join Second Harvest Heartland CEO Allison O'Toole, Sondra Samuels with Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ), Stella Whitney-West with NorthPoint Health & Wellness, and Antwayn Hunter with Breaking Bread Café and Appetite For Change as they discuss seven months into our current crises and why weathering the storm of COVID requires a collective, community response.

October 6, 2020 - VIDEO Community Update: Through the COVID crisis, we've found ourselves working with new partners across the community. Just last week, the Minnesota sports community rallied together to help fill every plate through the Home Teams vs Hunger campaign.

September 1, 2020 - VIDEO Community Update: Tsega Tamene of Pillsbury United Communities and Angela Nissan of Prairie Five Community Action join Second Harvest Heartland's Theresa McCormick and Allison O'Toole to talk about the four ways to fill your fridge this fall.

August 4, 2020 - VIDEO Community Update: Join us as we take a deep dive into the connection between hunger and health, and discuss:

  • What social determinants of health are and how they impact kids in our community.
  • How the need for food resources has changed in health care settings due to COVID-19.
  • What are creative best practices and policies from other states or countries in tackling the joint public health and economic crises caused by COVID-19.
  • How we can use this moment of crisis to tackle persistent inequities, including disparities in access to resources like healthy food that are so important in determining overall health.

July 28, 2020 - VIDEO Community Update: Did you know that Black, Latinx, and Indigenous families in our community are at least twice as likely to live with hunger than white families? In Minnesota and across the country, the ease with which families can fill their cupboards and their kids’ bellies differs across racial groups. This is unacceptable.

Join us as we take a look at these stark racial disparities and unpack who is hungry. Joining our discussion is Tomme Beevas, founder and chief strategic officer at Pimento Jamaican Kitchen; Michelle Horovitz, executive director of Appetite For Change; Dr. Jaime Slaughter-Acey, researcher on the intersection of race and health at the University of Minnesota; and Irene Fernando - Hennepin County Commissioner District 2.

July 21, 2020 - VIDEO Community Update: How are we and our community partners getting food to kids who need it most this summer? Ellie Lucas from Hunger Impact Partners joins us to let parents know where and how they can access meals for their family.

June 24, 2020 - VIDEO Community Update: Across Minnesota, the challenging economic conditions tied to COVID-19 are estimated to result in an additional 275,000 people facing food insecurity for the first time, including more than 112,000 Minnesota kids. Hear from Second Harvest Heartland CEO Allison O’Toole, McKinsey & Company Partner David Fiocco, and Channel One Regional Food Bank Executive Director Virginia Merritt. For more information about the data from McKinsey & Co., visit 2harvest.org/hungersurge

June 16, 2020 - VIDEO Community Update: Hunger is surging in South Minneapolis and other Twin Cities neighborhoods—and it’s getting in the way of efforts to build a stronger, more equitable community and to effectively fight COVID-19.

May 26, 2020 - VIDEO Community Update: Farmers and the agricultural community are critical players in the fight against hunger. One way in which the ag community and Minnesota’s food banks have come together is through a program called Farm to Food Shelf.

May 19, 2020 - VIDEO Community Update: Hear from Chef Liz Mullen from Chowgirls Killer Catering, Chef Ben Peine from Surly Brewing Company (our new MCK kitchen partner!), Adair Mosley from Pillsbury United Communities, Aaron Palm from Appetite For Change, Cathy Maes from Loaves & Fishes, and Allison O’Toole from Second Harvest Heartland.

May 12, 2020 - VIDEO Community Update: As the hungriest summer in memory draws closer for Minnesota’s kids, Second Harvest Heartland, Youthprise and Saint Paul Public Schools SPPS dive into what our nonprofits and school districts are doing to beat the clock on pandemic-era child hunger in Minnesota.

May 5, 2020 - VIDEO Community Update: Joe McDonald, CEO of VEAP, Tony Sanneh, Founder of The Sanneh Foundation, and Cathy Maes, Executive Director of Loaves & Fishes join us to discuss a safe and effective initiative to combat hunger during the coronavirus: emergency farmers markets.

April 28, 2020 - VIDEO Community Update: Lisa Davis, Senior Vice President of No Kid Hungry joins Second Harvest Heartland's Allison O'Toole and Theresa McCormick to discuss SNAP—the foundation of hunger relief.

April 14, 2020 - VIDEO Community Update: Good in the Hood Executive Director Shawn Morrison and Loaves and Fishes Executive Director Cathy Maes join Second Harvest Heartland CEO Allison O'Toole in this week’s Community Report.

April 7, 2020 - VIDEO Community Update: Second Harvest Heartland CEO Allison O’Toole, Loaves & Fishes Executive Director Cathy Maes, and United Community Action Partnership Resource Manager Margaret Palan discuss the ways they're stretching, adapting and stepping up services to meet the needs of the community and local food shelves.

March 31, 2020 - VIDEO Community Update: Second Harvest Heartland CEO Allison O’Toole, CAPI USA Executive Director Ekta Prakash and Loaves & Fishes Executive Director Cathy Maes address how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the local hunger-relief community.

Covid-19 response update

Food Delivered: 284,794,352 lbs. (237,328,626 Meals) up 13% compared to same time frame pre-Covid. SNAP Referrals: 35,548. Up 97% compared to same time frame pre-COVID. Food Shelf Visits in service area: Up 13%. Minnesota Central Kitchen: 3,001,292 Meals Served. Food Delivered: 284,794,352 lbs. (237,328,626 Meals) up 13% compared to same time frame pre-Covid. SNAP Referrals: 35,548. Up 97% compared to same time frame pre-COVID. Food Shelf Visits in service area: Up 13%. Minnesota Central Kitchen: 3,001,292 Meals Served.

Support Our Efforts

For some of our neighbors, a lack of resources means they can’t afford to stock up on food. Missing work means missing meals for their family. Here are some ways you can support those facing hunger right now: 

  • Donate to fund emergency meals today. 
  • Spread the word—restaurants and food distributors can donate food that would otherwise go to waste.Learn more.
  • Watch for more updates as situations change on our Hunger Matters blog.

We depend on you. We are committed to meeting the need for meals and we need your help to help fill every cupboard. It’s time to pull together to weather this tough time.

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