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An east metro restaurant is taking care of its own during the coronavirus, offering free dinners to restaurant workers whose livelihood has been disrupted because of lost hours or layoffs during the coronavirus shutdown.

“We’ve been flying through hamburger and pasta,” said Zachery Suddath, a manager at Mallards, which has locations in Inver Grove Heights, Forest Lake and New Richmond, Wis. “It’s pounds and pounds and pounds of food.”

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Mallards is one of several Twin Cities restaurants pitching in to provide free food to children, to workers in hard-hit occupations and to the needy in general.

It started with more than a dozen eateries offering free lunches to kids while school is canceled. Afro Deli has been serving free lunches to kids at its Stadium Village and St. Paul restaurants for about a week, said owner Abdirahman Kahin.

Students in grades K-12 may choose any entree from the menu’s selection of Mediterranean, East African and American dishes, he said, adding that they had served 40 to 50 meals as of Wednesday.

“Small things help,” Kahin said. “I wish I could do more.”

Afro Deli also served 215 meals Tuesday to elderly and disabled residents at a south Minneapolis apartment building.

Mallards has provided 50 to 75 free meals at each of its restaurants every night since March 18, Suddath said. He added that his dad, Mallards owner David Suddath, saw other businesses doing what they could to help workers affected by the virus and wanted to offer assistance.

“ ‘Hey, what can I do to help?’ is kind of where his head went,” Zachery Suddath said of his father. “What we’re not going to do is throw up our hands … and say we’re done, we give up.”

The dinners, which are served from 4 to 7 p.m., are prepared with food the restaurants already have on hand, along with donations from various sources, he said.

Meals so far have included tacos, chili macaroni and cheese, and seafood linguine, with dessert and salad on the side. Mallards remains open for takeout.

Suddath said that if a worker says he has four children to feed, he gets enough for the whole family. Some people have picked up food five or six nights in a row, he said.

Mallards’ servers, cooks and other staffers haven’t been laid off, but their hours have been cut and their paychecks are smaller than before the outbreak, he said.

Some restaurants are taking other approaches to feeding needy patrons. Hope Breakfast Bar in St. Paul has transformed itself into a soup kitchen of sorts, but with full meals for anyone in need. It’s focusing solely on free meals and provides home delivery if requested.

“We’re serving anywhere from 500 people to 1,000 people a day, so it’s pretty crazy right now,” said Brian Ingram, owner of the 6-month-old restaurant. “There’s no questions asked.”

The restaurant’s community kitchen concept, which launched March 19, has fed more than 5,000 people using donations from food distributor US Foods, surplus food from other restaurants and Ingram’s own funds. It operates between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. each day.

“We didn’t know how to say no to these folks and not feed them,” Ingram said.

Hope uses available ingredients to create large amounts of one dish every day. For instance, when they were given 500 pounds of chicken, four cases of curry powder and 200 pounds of carrots, staffers came up with a chicken and potato dish, he said. The restaurant began using a food truck Thursday to distribute meals at Urban Ventures’ Colin Powell Center in south Minneapolis.

Erin Adler • 612-673-1781