Cousins Sunny and Linda drove over to Mount Olivet Lutheran Church at 2:00 p.m. last Thursday, a tradition that has become a way of life for them this past year.

“When I lost my husband to COVID-19 I was recommended to come here and get a community meal,” said Sunny.

Even though the two cousins are normally the first in line, they would be just the first few of over 900 guests served at Mount Olivet on a recent Thursday evening.

One of those guests was Ted who has stopped by the last few weeks to pick up meals for his family. He has two young daughters and his wife is unemployed. One thing he noticed right away was being able to cut down on grocery costs by not having to worry about dinner two nights a week.

Multiple guests echoed the same thoughts and that is an alarming problem being felt across the country.

“According to USDA data released in April, the Consumer Price Index for grocery store or supermarket food purchases last year was up 3.5 percent: That’s not only a significant jump from 2019, where these retail “food-at-home” prices were up only 0.9 percent from the year before, but also well above the 20-year annual average of 2.0 percent and the highest annual increase since 2011.” (From an article in Food and Wine Magazine).

Another guest, Marsha, provided a unique perspective on the issue. Not only did her husband become unemployed during the pandemic, but they are also experiencing the rising cost of gluten-free groceries for his health needs.

“I don’t know what we would have done without these meals,” explained Marsha. “A small loaf of gluten-free bread at the store is five dollars, so these free meals have become a lifesaver.”

The USDA estimates grocery bills could increase by another 3 percent in 2021, while some experts are betting on even longer-term problems.

“I think groceries will probably go even higher,” said Sunny. “Same as gas. So this really helps us out. We always have a meal when we need it.”

Our meal numbers reflect the growing crisis in Minnesota and across the country after job loss piled on top of rising grocery prices. The community meal site at Mount Olivet is a look at that impact right here in Minneapolis. They were regularly serving between 200-300 guests before the pandemic and have now served as many as 1,000 meals in one evening.

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