So Much More Than a Soup Kitchen: Meet Minnesota Central Kitchen

Brenda standing outside with her grandchildren, Jaziyrah, 4, and Brayden, 3 For Brenda and her family, it’s been a hard year. Brenda recently got custody of her two grandchildren and struggles to keep enough food on the table. Her daughter lost work in the pandemic and isn’t able to send as much money to provide for Jaziyrah, 4, and Brayden, 3.

The meals Brenda gets from her neighborhood food shelf helps her family make ends meet and allows her to not have to choose between heat and food. “We’re thankful,” she said. “We have something to eat. We have a roof over our head.

Minnesota Central Kitchen is helping ensure that neighbors experiencing hunger, including families like Brenda’s, have access to ready-made, nourishing meals. Since it launched in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, Minnesota Central Kitchen—now a permanent program of Second Harvest Heartland—has prepared and distributed about two million individually prepared meals to the community. And the need continues this holiday season.

Today’s hunger crisis

Picture of a meal prepared by MCK. Salmon, rice, acorn squash.The statistics today are staggering: 1 in 10 Minnesotans, including 1 in 7 Minnesota kids, faces hunger. Parents and seniors are making impossible choices—between food and essential bills like electricity or rent—while kids wonder where their next meal might come from. As winter’s increased expenses come due and grocery prices continue to tick higher, too many working families are being pushed to the brink. Hunger has grown here in the heartland, and it won’t take a break for the holidays.


1 in 10 Minnesotans experience food insecurity. Including 1 in 7 kids

Chefs to the rescue

That’s where Minnesota’s culinary community comes in, from high-end restaurateurs and celebrity chefs to wedding caterers and community cafes. More than 100 partners are Minnesota Central Kitchen.

In mid-March 2020, just as workplaces, schools, and restaurants were shutting down, this foodie community came together to do what it does best: serve good food to people who need it. The award-winning team at Chowgirls Catering made the first call to Second Harvest Heartland, having turned doomed produce and protein into individually sized, five-star meals. They needed somewhere for the meals to go. Second Harvest Heartland then called its meal-distribution partners and these 200 meals were on their way to families, waiting in line for something to eat after a stressful, uncertain, hard day.

To date, about two million meals have been prepared by 12 Twin Cities kitchens. Two of the more widely known chefs, Justin Sutherland and David Fhima, joined the Minnesota Central Kitchen family in the fall of 2020 for a specific assignment: To create family-style meals for the students and families enrolled in Roseville Area Schools, a district with some of the highest free- and reduced-lunch eligibility in the state.

Not only were their meals exceptional in quality and taste, but they were tailored to the diversity of the district, with Hmong, Latinx and Traditional Minnesotan meals available for families each week. Hear why this work matters from Chefs Justin and David:

Rescuing food from going to waste

So what about those mystery ingredients? Because Minnesota Central Kitchen is an initiative of Second Harvest Heartland, one of the country’s largest food banks, its meals are made from rescued and donated food! Specifically, up to 70 percent of meal ingredients come from the food bank supply chain, local grocery retailers, and food hub partners.

This means two things. First, that only around 30 of meal ingredients need to be purchased, keeping meal costs low for Minnesota Central Kitchen and free for families. Second, that sometimes kitchens receive some weird ingredients, like dozens of boxes of breaded, frozen fish sticks, or a truckload of mushrooms, or cases of strawberries…all in the same delivery! Whatever it is, though, they always deliver delicious, nutritious meals for the community.

Nourishing community through collaboration

In its first 18 months of operation, despite all the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, Minnesota Central Kitchen meals – about two million of them! – have kept families fed. But we can’t continue to meet the elevated levels of hunger in our community without financial support. Give a financial gift today and help ensure that prepared meals remain a part of our COVID recovery. A donation of $25 can provide ready-made dinner for a family of five in need this holiday season.

a collage of three photos. first, an MCK chef prepares food in the kitchen, second, a community member waits in their car to pick up food from MCK. Third, a line of prepared meals from MCK includes, mashed potatoes, chicken, vegetables.

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