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

A picture of Yarley sitting outside, holding a plastic bag, wearing a maroon shirtYarley loves the days when she and her mom, Blanca, visit their neighborhood food pantry. She’s always so curious to see what’s inside the bags and boxes and containers!

For Blanca, who works full-time as a medical assistant, she’d have to cut critical bills and essential expenses without the pantry. “It’s feeding my family. It’s keeping us healthy.”

That’s exactly what Minnesota Central Kitchen does; keeps families fed and healthy. Since it launched in response to the COVID-19 pandemic one year ago, Minnesota Central Kitchen has prepared and distributed more than 1.3 million individually prepared meals to the community. To families just like Yarley’s. And the need has never been greater.

Today’s hunger crisis

Picture of a meal prepared by MCK. Salmon, rice, acorn squash.Fueled by the pandemic, today 1 in 9 Minnesotans, including 1 in 6 Minnesota kids, faces hunger. With rates this high, it means hunger is in every community, every classroom, every faith group, every family. And it’s hitting communities of color especially hard. It means that parents are making painful decisions between electricity bills and groceries, at a time when unemployment is still high and regained jobs are paying lower wages. And the food access barriers that existed before the pandemic – transportation, proximity to grocery stores, rising prices – have only compounded. Hunger is closer than ever before.


1 in 9 Minnesotans experience food insecurity. Including 1 in 6 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 they do 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 Loaves & Fishes 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, more than 1.3 million meals have been prepared by 15 Twin Cities kitchens, including the Campus Club. 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 catered 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 actually 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 to 40 percent 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 community.

Nourishing community through collaboration

In its first year of operation, despite all the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic and local civil unrest, Minnesota Central Kitchen meals – more than 1.3 million of them! – have kept families safe and fed. But we can’t continue to meet historic 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 response and recovery. A donation of $25 can provide ready-made dinner for a family of four in need.

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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