Demand for holiday meals up dramatically

Free meals
A volunteer at Union Gospel Mission in downtown St. Paul, readying thousands of Thanksgiving meals that were distributed to people in need this week.
Photo courtesy of Union Gospel Mission

A St. Paul-based charity says demand for its free Thanksgiving meal program has increased by more than 50 percent over the past two years.

Union Gospel Mission, a faith-based agency in downtown St. Paul, distributed 7,000 baskets filled with turkey, corn, green beans, peas, stuffing, rice, potatoes and cranberries to low-income families in the Twin Cities this year. Each basket feeds about five people.

The program served 6,500 families last year and 4,500 families two years ago.

Nick Gisi, director of men's programs at Union Gospel Mission, says many of the new recipients are families who had donated to the program before, but have suffered financially due to the economic downturn.

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The non-profit has kept up with the increased demand by partnering with area churches and food shelf networks. This year, church members provided food for 3,300 baskets.

"We're being more creative in how to get the food that we need," Gisi said.

The non-profit also delivers prepared holiday meals to low-income senior citizens, and hosts a free Thanksgiving dinner open to the public.

The annual dinner is scheduled at Union Gospel Mission, 435 University Ave. E. in St. Paul, from noon to 1:30 p.m. on Thursday.