ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — At The Gnome Craft Pub in St. Paul, food fills every table in sight, and none of it is for sale.

A group of people recently let go from their jobs in the service industry shuffle through the lines to pick out groceries. A team of volunteers work like an orchestra to create a hum of boxes moving, people greeting and firewood burning on the winter morning. Its conductor is The Gnome’s owner, Brian Ingram.

“If I’m sitting at home and I have a full belly and my community doesn’t, that doesn’t work in our house,” Ingram said.

When the state closed in-person dining, Ingram had to lay off 140 employees, the week before Thanksgiving. Days later, the Gnome reopened, this time as a food shelf.

For many of the people in line, this was their first time asking for help.

“It just would’ve been nice to help get some extra groceries for my family,” said Ulysses Mullins, who lost his job earlier this year.

Shauna Anderson, who lives in St. Paul, has lost her job twice. She picked up a mix of produce, snacks and toys for her two children.

“It’s challenging,” Anderson said. “A lot of people say it’s the new norm, but it’s like… this isn’t normal, you know?”

Ingram assures anyone he can that he, in fact, does know.

“We’re fellow restaurant workers. We get it, we understand it. So I think that’s a big part of it,” Ingram said.

Yet the receiving is only part of it. The amount of donations has multiplied by more than four, in just one week. Ingram has received help from neighbors, friends, food distributors, the Ramsey County sheriff, and even competing restaurant owners.

For him, this is what it’s all about.

“As people are taking a load of groceries out, (more) people are showing up with groceries,” said Ingram, overwhelmed with emotion.

For everyone, this is so much more than just groceries.

“There’s just a lot of hope in how people have been taking care of each other,” Anderson said.

Ingram plans to host the food drive at The Gnome Craft Pub every Tuesday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., until restaurants reopen. It’s available for anyone who wants to help or who needs it.

Christiane Cordero