Operation Sandwich expands to Pine River, Pequot Lakes, Nisswa

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Kristin Lindholm loads a van with Operation Sandwich lunch packs bound for Pine River on the first day the group will serve the Pine River, Pequot Lakes and Nisswa communities. Travis Grimler / Echo Journal

Food security programs appear to be cropping up all over the lakes area with one of the most recent being the newly expanded Operation Sandwich, now delivering lunches to children in Pine River, Pequot Lakes and Nisswa.

Operation Sandwich is a program under Bridges of Hope that works to provide lunches for the week to children in its coverage areas during the summer break from school. The program has been operating out of Brainerd for the past seven years.

“Our goal is to feed hungry people,” said area volunteer organizer Zach Malecha. “We were started in 2013 by young people, 13-14 year olds and other high schoolers who had a project they wanted to do for their community and off the ground it went. Seven years later now, and last summer we fed over 10,000 meals in the Brainerd lakes area.”

Operation Sandwich volunteers worked with another organization in 2019 that convinced them their services were needed outside of Brainerd.

“We were working with the Outreach Program of Brainerd Lakes with Shawn Hansen in Nisswa last fall on a mobile pack for their food organization,” Malecha said. “She shared some statistics with us that were striking and we knew we had to do something more. With Nisswa being at about 35% free and reduced lunch, we knew our neighbors were even higher.”


As a result, Operation Sandwich is now distributing meals on Thursdays at the dam park in Pine River, by the playground at Trailside Park in Pequot Lakes and at the Community Park in Nisswa. The program is open to anyone who signs up at

Families in the program receive five meals a week per child, though COVID-19 has changed the way the meals are distributed.

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Volunteers pack lunch supplies, including peanut butter and jelly, bread, fruits and snacks, for families in the Pine River, Pequot Lakes and Nisswa communities. Shown from left at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Nisswa are Steve Heslop, Steve Osmera, Liz Brandanger, Kristin Lindholm, Pam Osmera and Judy Heslop. This is the first year Operation Sandwich has included these communities in its outreach. Submitted Photo

“In a normal year we're making peanut butter sandwiches and lunches every day. You would get one granola bar instead of five, and one piece of fruit and one vegetable,” Malecha said.

This year, families receive once-a-week distributions of lunch packs every Thursday to last them one week. Volunteers put the meals together Thursday mornings at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Nisswa, where Malecha serves as youth and family ministry director.

“You can expect to receive a week's worth of lunch supplies for however many people you register for,” Malecha said. “There's peanut butter and jelly, there's loaves of bread depending on how many people you have. There's fruit snacks, apples, fresh produce, granola bars, trail mix packs, Goldfish (Crackers) and all your favorite lunch snacks.”

Distributions are Thursdays at 11:15 a.m. in Pine River, noon in Pequot Lakes and 12:45 p.m. in Nisswa. Lunch kit requests must be received by 10 a.m. Wednesdays.


Travis Grimler may be reached at 218-855-5853 or Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at

Travis Grimler began work at the Echo Journal Jan. 2 of 2013 while the publication was still split in two as the Pine River Journal and Lake Country Echo. He is a full time reporter/photographer/videographer for the paper and operates primarily out of the northern stretch of the coverage area (Hackensack to Jenkins).
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