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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Demand for food assistance is rising in the wake of this outbreak.

SNAP referrals have doubled since March 13, and Second Harvest is distributing 350,000 pounds of food, which is more than they did at this time last year.

About two dozen chefs from Compass Group normally prepare food for thousands of UnitedHealth Group employees in the company’s cafeterias, but now many are working in their home kitchens, according to CEO Brett Edelson.

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“Our chefs are no longer cooking for our employees, so we came up with the idea of how can we help the chefs help others?” Edelson said.

Their chefs, including Robert Schoonover, will now cook 21,000 meals a week that will go to Loaves and Fishes meal distribution sites across the Twin Cities.

“This is just a blessing to actually get back to the kitchen and also give back to the community,” Schoonover said.

Edelson says he’s never seen anything like this before.

“I think it’s because the individuals involved know how great the need is,” he said.

Loaves and Fishes typically serves 30,000 meals per week, but that number has nearly quadrupled to 114,000 meals in the past seven days.

“To know that our associates are able to feed their families in a safe environment and continue to do what they love each and every day is amazing,” Schoonover said. “Feeding others, I mean, there’s no better gift, right?”

Wendy Bloomer says she also feels privileged to be in her current situation.

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“I’m just kind of a week-by-week paycheck gal, and it’s nice to know I have a paycheck coming in,” Bloomer said.

The effort also keeps these two-dozen hourly employees working, and practicing social distancing in the comfort of their own kitchens.

“One of the coolest things I heard today when I was with the team is one of the employees saying, ‘You are helping me do what I do best,'” Edelson said.

UnitedHealth Group will continue this for eight weeks, and then reassess the need. Officials say it will cost $1 million to pull that off.

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Erin Hassanzadeh

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