Area restaurants, organizations to offer meals for students

Restaurants and other organizations are rallying to make sure students and community members get fed during the COVID-19 pandemic, with many providing food at no cost.


With schools across the state closed for at least the next two weeks, a few lakes area restaurants are stepping up to offer meals for kids who may be missing out.

As a mother of four, Victoria Stumbo, owner of Sweet Sinsations Bakery in the Westgate Mall, said she knows what it’s like for families who rely on school meals to feed their kids.

“We didn’t want people to feel the way that we felt. We want to be able to offer something to them to let them know that there’s people out there that still care and that still understand what other people are going through,” Stumbo said Monday, March 16.

Sweet Sinsations limited its hours to 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. for now, but families with school-aged children can come in during that time for free sack lunches. Meals will include but are not limited to a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, piece of fruit, juice box and fresh baked cookie. Families can also call ahead with the number of lunches they will need. Stumbo said families are limited to one sack lunch per kid per day to make sure everyone who needs a meal can get one.

Sweet Sinsations will continue offering the sack lunches until school resumes. And if it’s a successful effort, Stumbo said she may continue it as a regular offering.


The bakery also hopes to offer take-and-heat family meals beginning later this week for those in need. Stumbo said she is asking for donations — like ground beef, pasta, spaghetti sauce, fruit, rolls, rice, vegetables and to-go containers — that would go toward community meals on Thursdays and Wednesdays. Any donations will be solely used for meals and not for the businesses.

Meal pickup times will be 3-5 p.m. Thursdays and Sundays on a first-come, first-served basis. Those interested in donating can drop donations off 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. or call 218-203-9468 to arrange another time. More information is available on the Sweet Sinsations Facebook page.

“We just want to make sure that everybody can benefit somehow from getting a meal,” Stumbo said. “We don’t want people to go hungry. That’s our main goal.”

Chris Foy, co-owner of Ernie’s on Gull and Main Street Ale House in Nisswa, feels the same. Both restaurants began offering free meals for students Monday.

“When we heard that schools are going to be shut down for a while, we got in touch with U.S. Food Service, which is our food provider, and asked if they would back us if we do this, and they said they would,” Foy said Monday.

Kids will have a choice between three different main courses each day, all of which will come with vegetables, fruit, string cheese and milk.

Foy said families can call ahead to request meals — which take a few minutes to prepare — before picking them up.


Where to get meals for students

As of Monday night, the Dispatch was aware of the following establishments offering meals for students while schools are closed:

  • 3 Cheers Hospitality (Prairie Bay, Iron Range Eatery, Sherwood Forest). Free lunches.

  • A-Pine Family Restaurant, Jenkins. Free sack lunches can be picked up between 10:30-11:30 a.m. Monday-Friday until March 27. Lunches include cold cut meat and cheese sandwich, fruit, milk, chips

  • Baxter Cafe. In partnership with Raboin & Francis Law Office and Pan-O-Gold Baking, Baxter Cafe will offer free weekend lunch meals for students under 18. Two meals are bagged per student for the weekend. Call 218-829-1739 between 8-10:30 a.m. Saturday to pick up the order between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.

  • The Burn, Baxter. Free nutritional shakes are available for children.

  • Knotty Pine Bakery, Brainerd. Families can call the bakery at 218-454-2470 to arrange pickup for a complementary box lunch of a sandwich and cookies.

  • Mille Lacs Grand Casinos, serving public school students in Onamia, Isle, Hinckley-Finlayson, McGregor and Nay Ah Shing. Grand Casinos also plans to help the Mille Lacs Band community.

  • Ironton American Legion. Daily free hot meals are available for school-age students. In special circumstances, delivery may be provided. Call 218-851-6772.

  • North Country Cafe, Crosby. Those in the Crosby-Ironton area in need of meals should contact North Country Cafe by Tuesday, March 17, either via Facebook or at 218-820-6528. Free boxed lunches will be made each morning beginning Wednesday, March 28.

  • Subway, Pierz, Little Falls and Randall. Through the month of March, Subway in Pierz, Randall and in Little Falls Walmart will offer free meals to school-age kids 11 a.m.-2 p.m., Monday through Friday. The meal includes a 4-inch ham or turkey sandwich, applesauce, and a juice box or milk.

  • The Shop, Brainerd. Youth in need can sign in to The Shop and pick up a to-go container of food at 5 p.m. Wednesday - Saturday. Food will be distributed at the bike room door. The Shop will continue this as long as it is able to.

  • Pequot Lakes School District. Families can pick up breakfast and lunch meal bags at Eagle View Elementary Schools or Pequot Lakes High School 7-8:30 a.m. or 3-4 p.m. daily. Those interested should call their school’s office to sign up so enough meals can be prepared.

  • Pine River-Backus School District. Grab and go lunches are available 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Commons Area. Regular lunch prices and procedures will be followed. Those receiving free and reduced lunches will be provided as usual.

  • Little Falls School District. Beginning Tuesday, March 17, Little Falls school buses will run their normal routes to deliver meals to students. Buses will run two hours later than normal and will deliver both breakfast and lunch to students who want it. Students should come out to the bus to pick up their meals. Families who want to participate — including those who do not ride the bus — should contact their bus provider or call the district at 320-632-2002 or 320-632-2029.
    Little Falls students can also pick up grab ‘n go breakfasts and lunches from 9-11 a.m. beginning Tuesday from Little Falls Community High School and Dr. Knight Elementary School.

Operation Sandwich is in the process of working out a plan to provide meals for students. More information will be announced in the coming days. Nonperishable food items can be dropped off at Bethlehem Lutheran Church.

Community meals

Sharing Bread Soup Kitchen will shift its services to to-go meals, rather than having patrons gather in one room.

Pine River-Backus Community Meals will serve to-go meals outside the Backus Community Center Tuesday, as the community center is closed.

The Outreach Program is collecting donations for both organizations. Donations needed are:

  • To-go containers of various sizes.

  • Brown paper bags.

  • Juice boxes.

  • Zipper sandwich bags.

  • Plastic silverware.

  • Napkins

  • Shelf-stable milk.

Donations can be dropped off at The Outreach Program of Brainerd Lakes, 24489 Hazelwood Drive, Nisswa.
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Editor's Note: The story was updated March 24 to reflect a scheduled change at Baxter Cafe & Catering.


THERESA BOURKE may be reached at or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at .
Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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