Planting Seeds - Food & Farming News from CDFA

With dining rooms closed, restaurants work together to feed the needy – from the Sacramento Bee

By Benny Egel

Five upscale Sacramento restaurants have launched a program called Family Meal that’ll supply community members in need with thousands of free, pre-cooked meals each week throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

AlloraCamden Spit + LarderCanonBinchoyaki and Mulvaney’s B&L will assemble a combined 2,000 food kits per week starting Tuesday, nearly half of which will feed seniors in 11 Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency apartment buildings, Canon co-owner Clay Nutting said.

Additional deals with Sacramento City Unified School District and participating nonprofits would add up to 5,000 more kits per week once funding is secured, with each kit containing the equivalent of four meals.

“We certainly know the five of us aren’t going to be able to take care of every person in need, but that’s why we’re working hard to create a model that other people can follow and identify ways that some other restaurants can undertake their own initiatives,” Nutting said.

Allora, Canon and Mulvaney’s B&L began semi-independently rolling out about 1,000 combined meal kits in the last week, giving food to organizations such as Our Lady of Guadalupe Church and the Roberts Family Development Center, which then redistributed it among their members.

Restaurant staffers prepare, assemble and drop off the kits independent of each other to adhere to social distancing. Kits vary, but some of those assembled thus far have included chicken, mashed or roasted potatoes, chili, cooked rice, salads, tri tip, mandarins, white-bean-and-ham soup, pasta and dinner rolls.

“People are extremely appreciative,” Roberts Family Development Center co-founder Derrell Roberts said. “The food that they may have been getting prior to that was certainly not (this kind of) restaurant food … I think people taste this pork or chicken or beef and think ‘mmm, this is a little different.’”

Virtually all restaurants across California have closed their dining rooms within the last two weeks amid local and statewide stay-at-home orders designed to slow the coronavirus’ spread. Sacramento County had 164 confirmed COVID-19 cases and six deaths due to the disease as of Friday, according to county health officials. More than 86,000 cases have been identified in the United States, the most of any country.

Family Meal fulfills three needs, Mulvaney’s B&L co-owner Patrick Mulvaney said. Several small area farmers who sell primarily to restaurants have suddenly found their main clients don’t need much product; having a revenue stream and a place to offload that produce, dairy and meat helps ensure the farms will still be around once restaurants fully reopen.

Some participating restaurants are paying their employees to assemble the kits, while others rely on a few volunteer staff members. Either way provides a sense of normalcy and something to do, Mulvaney said. Add in the benefit of feeding the hungry, and it’s clear why Nutting and Mulvaney want to establish a template for other restaurants to mimic in their own communities.

“The idea is that it’s not necessarily flowing profit to our bottom line, but it is a way to keep people working and supplement our curbside business,” Nutting said. “If we can help the purveyors that provide us with this incredible bounty and take care of our community at the same time, we’re doing our small part during this crisis to keep everyone together.”

Each kit costs $20 to produce, $15 of which goes toward labor and ingredients. Similar efforts are being coordinated through Nixtaco in Roseville and Savory Cafe in Woodland, Nutting wrote in a Medium post on Thursday.

Though Sacramento has a surplus of restaurant staff and available ingredients that could feed other vulnerable populations, funding remains a hurdle in Family Meal’s potential growth. The City of Sacramento will pay for SHRA’s meals, but more money would allow the restaurants to expand on the 140 kits per week they each are now producing, Nutting said.

A private underwriter sponsored Canon’s first 300 kits, Nutting said. Mulvaney’s B&L relied on direct food donations from companies such as Sysco (300 pounds of meat for $12), Durst Organic Growers in Yolo County (2,000 asparagus stalks) and Ginger Elizabeth Chocolates (800 macarons) during the first week of service.

“Clay’s continuing to search for funding, but we said this week, ‘OK, we’re just going to start doing it,” Mulvaney said. “Someone asked, ‘well, moving forward, how are you funding this?’ I answered, ‘there’s hungry people out there. How are you not funding this?’”

All participating restaurants other than Mulvaney’s B&L remain open for takeout or delivery service, and many are now encouraging customers to donate to Family Meal under the premise of buy-one, give-one. Nutting also launched a crowdsourcing page through Spotfund on Friday morning.

“It shows the best of Sacramento when people say, ‘how can I help?’” Mulvaney said. “Each of us, in our own way, has a way to help.”

Link to story in the Sacramento Bee

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