As the number of hungry families surges during the global pandemic, local groups are stepping up to feed the need

By Nicholas Rice
April 14, 2020 06:00 AM
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Northern Illinois Food Bank

As Jarrid Collins saw the coronavirus pandemic spread quickly around the country, he, like many others, wanted to help his local community however he could.

“The restaurant industry has been one of the hardest hit,” says Collins.

The organization he works with, Operation BBQ Relief based in Kansas City, Missouri, is one example of a relief effort focusing on helping restaurants who have been affected by COVID-19.

While chef José Andrés and his World Central Kitchen charity hustle to feed needy families across the globe, fashion brands are stepping into mask-making efforts, and major companies are donating money to help struggling Americans, many chefs and food groups are doing their part to help on the local level—from donating meals to hungry families to paying for the groceries for supermarket employees.

Courtesy OBR

Originally founded in 2011 to provide hot meals to those affected by natural disasters, Operation BBQ Relief has since shifted its efforts to also offer assistance to struggling or closed local restaurants. By providing food, packaging, and a stipend if they are willing to rehire or retain their employees, their new initiative revives restaurants closed due to COVID-19, utilizing their kitchens to provide free meals to those who need them.

“A hot meal provides hope, compassion and comfort during a pandemic that creates several levels of uncertainty,” the Operation BBQ Relief chief of programs tells PEOPLE. “We are connecting with closed restaurants, empowering them to open their doors and bring their staff back to work as partners in the newly established program.”

To pay for the meals—the group has raised money via donations from individuals, corporations, and foundations—has started a GoFundMe campaign. Across the board, Collins describes the reaction to the organizations aid as “sheer gratitude.”

“The smiles on the faces of those receiving the meals and the hope provided to our partner businesses is both heart-warming and knee buckling.”

Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty

Operation BBQ Relief is one of many local organizations across the country pitching in to help out those in need.

In California, Bay Area-based Amy’s Kitchen, which manufactures organic convenience and frozen foods, announced Thursday they have donated more than 150,000 meals to food banks and sent 6,000 masks to local hospitals. In addition, their drive-thru locations are working to provide meals to Bay Area hospitals, medical staff and first responders.

The brand donated meals to food banks near their headquarters in Sonoma County California, as well as in Medford, Oregon, and Pocatello, Idaho, where they have plants.

“As the effects of COVID-19 spread throughout the world and with so many of us experiencing heightened uncertainty, few things feel more important than to have good, safe food available for ourselves and our loved ones,” says Rachel Berliner, Amy’s co-founder.

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Two Los Angeles-based restaurants, The Draycott and Olivetta, are also making an effort to help, by creating a program that allows their employees to keep working while helping out those in need.

Appropriately named “You Give. We Cook. They Eat,” the restaurants owned by Matt and Marissa Hermer from Bravo’s Ladies of London have a GoFundMe set up and are supporting their teams so that they can continue to cook and deliver food.

“We are delivering to the medical workers on the frontlines at Cedars-Sinai Hospital, UCLA Medical Center Santa Monica, St. Johns, and Children’s Hospital LA, as well as to the needy who are in self-isolation, to the elderly and to those who are unable to shop for themselves,” says Marissa.

In Denver, chefs Alon Shaya and Edward Lee (and The Lee Initiative) wanted to directly help the thousands of restaurant workers who suddenly lost their jobs. So they turned Shaya’s now-empty restaurant Safta into a relief center.

Each night, Safta’s team packs hundreds of free to-go dinners for the city’s recently unemployed restaurant workers. They’ve also stocked free household and personal hygiene supplies on hand for those unable to afford to buy their own.

“This is a way to keep our restaurant active, utilizing our resources to feed and provide supplies for the Denver community, one that has been gracious and welcoming to us. We are honored to have a chance to give back,” says Shaya.

Southern hospitality company Charleston Hospitality Group has joined the cause to feed unemployed hospitality workers, their families, and healthcare responders through the COVID-19 health crisis.

Through their “Full Belly, Full Hearts” campaign, Charleston-based restaurant and hotel workers can pick-up or have a meal delivered each day.

The Committee of Interns and Residents

New York has been at the center of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S., as medical professionals try to treat and protect thousands of sick patients. Fast casual restaurant chains Chopt and Dos Toros are doing their part to help those who are helping at the frontlines.

The groups have formed the “Feed the Frontline” initiative, a program created to provide medical professionals with healthy meals everyday while they’re at work. As a part of this initiative, both companies, with the help of sponsors, have raised over $250,000 to provide hospitals workers with over 1,000 fresh, healthy meals a day. The donations will go to local hospitals including New York-Presbyterian Hospital and Mount Sinai Hospital.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. To help provide doctors and nurses on the front lines with life-saving medical resources, donate to Direct Relief here.