Minnesota Central Kitchen — started by nonprofits and restaurants during the COVID-19 pandemic to feed people in need — has received a $100,000 boost from Hennepin County.

It's the latest public funding to support the initiative since Second Harvest Heartland, one of seven food banks in Minnesota, launched the program in April to respond to the growing need for help.

"We hope more support is coming," said Dana Nelson with Second Harvest Heartland. "It's really this beautiful combination of partners that are making really good things happen in a pretty terrible time."

This month, the program will top 1 million free meals and aims to dish out another 1 million meals in 2021 to Minnesotans in need — from Roseville students to the homeless living at Minneapolis encampments. The program is estimated to cost $5.6 million a year, most of which funds the re-employment of restaurant workers to prepare the food.

So far, foundations, individual donors and corporations have contributed the bulk of funding to Minnesota Central Kitchen, with only about 34% from public sources: the state Department of Education, Department of Human Services and the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

When the pandemic hit and restaurants had to close to the public, the program started with help from Chowgirls Catering and Loaves & Fishes, a Minneapolis-based free meal program. Since then, Minnesota Central Kitchen has put more than 100 workers at a dozen kitchens back to work to make meals while saving extra food from ending up in the trash — from pallets of avocados to truckloads of mushrooms.

"It's restaurant-quality food," Nelson said. "They just work their magic as chefs."

Food shelves and other hunger relief organizations are seeing a rising need during the pandemic, with an estimated one in eight Minnesotans — or more than 275,000 residents — now facing hunger.

This month, the annual Walk to End Hunger on Thanksgiving Day will support Second Harvest Heartland and eight other local organizations; the event has moved to a virtual format for the first time in its 13 years. For more details or to donate, go to walktoendhunger.org.