As the world sees images of soldiers and armored vehicles patrolling Minneapolis streets, an even larger army is quietly gathering strength. Their mission: to put out financial and emotional fires still smoldering after last week’s violent protests.

Lines of vehicles stretched 14 blocks after Sanford Middle School requested 85 bags of food to help families after local stores were looted and burned. They wound up with 20,000 bags of bread, fruit and more.

All My Relations Arts on Franklin Avenue has been transformed from a gallery into a food pantry that the Native American Community Development Institute plans to operate until at least October.

A refrigerated truck carrying 18 tons of fresh produce rolled into a Cub Foods parking lot Tuesday, a gift from the Zakat Foundation, a Muslim charity based in Chicago.

The sheer scope of support, pouring in from Minnesota and the nation, has surprised and relieved exhausted Minneapolis communities.

“These people are coming out of nowhere,” said Mark Graves, director of the Southside Village Boys & Girls Club, watching a group of young men who spontaneously offered to unload groceries from a Richfield food drive Tuesday.

“I haven’t seen anything like this in the 40 years I’ve lived in south Minneapolis,” Graves said. “This is the positive stuff that people around the country need to see. In a time you want to give up hope, this is the stuff that makes you not want to give up hope.”

Hope is coming in ways big and small to Minneapolis neighborhoods, reeling from the torching and looting that erupted after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police on May 25. Individuals show up with brooms. Neighbors form night watch committees. Suburban gyms collect diaper donations. Nonprofits orchestrate volunteers to scrub graffiti.

Top priority is food

The Southside Boys and Girls Club, like so many organizations, has morphed into an emergency support center during this crisis that has left a community with no major grocery stores, limited transportation and unemployment reaching new heights as more than 150 businesses were damaged or destroyed.

Their gymnasium became a food distribution center this week because the Boys and Girls Club in the Little Earth community ran out of space from the flood of donations, Graves said.

The Little Earth community center, packed with cereal, soup and diapers, served 1,000 Little Earth residents as well as 7,500 people from the nearby neighborhoods — turning away donations for the first time ever, said Millie Hernandez, Little Earth Youth Development Center director.

People picking up bags of groceries said they were desperate with neighborhood grocery stores destroyed.

“I am so thankful,” said Robin Keaton, 64, as she looked over the bags.

Chris Foreman, 47, of Apple Valley, brought his two teenage daughters to sort and organize donations. The Army Ranger served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said troops would never do to captured Taliban what Minneapolis police did to George Floyd.

“I needed to come out here to help the community and I think that’s what all Minnesota should do,” he said. “There is Minnesota goodness out there, but that label [Minnesota Nice] papers over … the inequities.”

A mile away, at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Jackson Odenbach, 17, and five of his co-workers from an insurance company near La Crosse, Wis., arrived Tuesday after driving nearly three hours to volunteer. He stood at a table piled high with tortillas and trail mix.

Earlier in the day, Odenbach had seen a woman waiting for about half an hour. He held up a package of baby formula and asked if she needed it.

“She just started crying,” he said.

All My Relations Arts gallery was emptied last week in case the riots came to its Ventura Village neighborhood. The space quickly became a storage site for thousands of donations, from fire extinguishers to diapers to canned goods. Distribution began Tuesday morning.

“This is a food desert now,” said Angel Swann, donation coordinator.

Swann grew up in the area and said she’s never seen the community come together so quickly before. Volunteers have driven from reservations across Minnesota to sort the items, she said.

“There’s a place for everyone to do something now,” she said.

The power of one

Valerie Quintana is among thousands of Minnesotans who have created do-it-yourself volunteer projects. Last week she gathered a few friends to clean up the shattered glass outside the Target and Cub Foods stores attacked by looters arsonists during last week’s violence.

She posted on Facebook that she was looking for help. The next day, 400 volunteers answered — and they are still coming.

“This has grown really big, really quick,” Quintana told a crowd of strangers holding brooms and dust pans at Phelps Field Park on Monday, the fourth day she’s organized cleanups.

Quintana started the cleanup effort as a tour guide to tragedy, guiding volunteers to the intersection where Floyd’s life was ended. She wanted to show the mostly white volunteers who might not typically venture to this neighborhood that it is safe.

“The broom is a symbol,’ ” she said. “It’s a symbol of hope, it’s a symbol of action.”

In north Minneapolis, Sanctuary Covenant Church is another symbol of hope and a destination for those wanting to pitch in. On Tuesday, Ashley Adkison drove an hour from New Richmond, Wis., to drop off two carloads of supplies she gathered from her community and police department after seeing a Facebook post seeking help.

“When you see something as heartbreaking as this, the only option is to help,” said Adkison, a bakery owner.

The church had planned to start a daily barbecue to offer meals to residents, but when strangers such as Adkison started pulling up with groceries, it transformed into a broader effort that now serves about 1,000 people a day across the street from a now-shuttered Cub Foods store.

“People have come from literally every part of the cities,” said Pastor Edrin Williams, as church volunteers directed traffic. “The response to help is incredible, but the need is also incredible.”

The business community, in particular, has felt that painful need. More than 46,000 Minnesotans responded, donating more than $3.8 million to date to the Lake Street Council to distribute to business owners whose livelihoods were damaged or destroyed.

While grateful for the support, and uplifted by it, the aid cannot meet the financial needs caused by the devastation, neighbors said. Even as donations pour in, they do so on streets that still have the faint smell of smoke and where rubble is still piled high on the sites of former businesses.

Neighbors hope Minnesotans don’t forget them after the current crisis has passed.

Said Graves: “There are so many needs.”

Staff writers Mara Klecker, Erin Adler and Katy Read contributed to this report.