Thousands of people in metropolitan areas of four states will have access to free and healthy food, as UnitedHealth Group leads an effort to create and provide 75,000 meals each week — for at least the next several weeks — as part of its response to COVID-19. The program, which recently launched in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area of Minnesota, comes as nonprofits report massive increases in the number of people who need help to access food.

Leaders of UnitedHealth Group, the parent company of UnitedHealthcare and Optum, initiated the plan to help employees from its food service vendor, Compass Group, get back to work in its recently closed office cafeterias, while also providing a larger community benefit. Within days, Compass Group employees began assembling meals at UnitedHealth Group’s Optum headquarters in Eden Prairie, Minn.

The program’s success spurred UnitedHealth Group to do even more to help people in need, including families, first responders, essential employees, senior citizens and individuals experiencing homelessness. Within a week, the company expanded the program to its recently closed office cafeterias in Las Vegas, Nevada; Hartford, Connecticut; Greensboro, North Carolina; and two additional locations in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.

“During this unprecedented public health emergency, getting a healthy meal has increasingly become a challenge for many families,” said Brett Edelson, CEO, UnitedHealthcare of Minnesota. “We’re proud to help by reallocating space and providing resources to help meet these important needs in the communities we’re privileged to serve.”

“I'm very grateful to UnitedHealth Group for (their) partnership. I think it's a tremendous testament to them and also speaks to the broader sense of common effort, common spirit — coming together to support one another at this time,” said Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin in a recent press conference.

Meals are being prepared by Compass Group employees who normally cook for and serve the UnitedHealth Group employees who now work primarily from home because of government-mandated stay-at-home orders.

The healthy menu options change daily as directed by Compass Group chefs and include meals such as chicken parmesan, seasoned rice and steamed carrots, and boxed lunches that include an assortment of sandwiches, fresh fruit, chips and water.

UnitedHealth Group is covering the approximately $3 million in food costs, as well as wages for the Compass Group employees. This outreach builds on UnitedHealth Group’s recently announced $50 million initial commitment to support communities affected by COVID-19.