Better Together: Charlottesville Groups Combat COVID-19 by Hiring Restaurants for Community Meals
What happens when three groups have the same innovative idea to help those in need? In the Charlottesville food community, they work together.
The three groups are #FeedCharlottesville, Frontline Foods Charlottesville, and the Chris Long Foundation’s Grub4Good. Their idea is ingenious: hire restaurants to provide free meals to those in need. At a time when COVID-19 is decimating the Charlottesville restaurant industry and leaving many in desperate need, the groups’ initiatives are a win-win: provide cash flow to help restaurants survive while also supporting those most affected by COVID-19.
The first to launch was #FeedCharlottesville, led by Keevil & Keevil’s Jennifer and Harrison Keevil, who are using fully staffed restaurant kitchens to make free meals for those in need. By next week, #FeedCharlottesville will provide more than 500 meals per day. Recipients thus far have included PACEM, Ronald McDonald House, the Local Food Hub, The Salvation Army, Goochland Free Clinic, Habitat for Humanity, and the International Rescue Committee. In an effort to continue supporting local farmers through the crisis, #FeedCharlottesville’s meals rely almost exclusively on local sourcing. “At the end of the day this is what we are supposed to do,” said Jennifer. “Take care of our neighbors in their time of need.”
Next was Frontline Foods Charlottesville, the Charlottesville chapter of Frontline Foods, a national partnership with Jose Andres’ World Central Kitchen. With assistance from John Kluge and Hunter Smith, Frontline Foods Charlottesville began its program this week, aiming to provide 750 free meals per day. Providers thus far include Champion Hospitality Group, Pearl Island Catering, Mochiko, and Order Up!, while initial recipients are employees of Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital and University of Virginia Hospital, with plans to extend relief to others with urgent needs. “I believe there is a way to help both these groups — the restaurants suffering from business closures and those on the frontlines of COVID-19,” said Smith. Through partnership with World Central Kitchen, the group is able to draw on the resources of a global disaster relief organization. “We’re grateful for the support of World Central Kitchen,” said Kluge, “but this will need to be a sustained effort, and for that we will need all the help we can get.”
Finally, the Chris Long Foundation’s Grub4Good this week is partnering with City Schoolyard Garden to provide funding for 4,000 meals from local restaurants for public school youth during spring break. And, next week Grub4Good will launch its broader community meals program. The devastation of COVID-19 in Chris Long’s home community of Charlottesville, his foundation’s director says, warranted a deviation from its usual focuses on clean water, military support, and under-served youth. “In these unprecedented times, we need to pitch in where help is needed most,” Woodie said. “We created Grub4Good to provide relief for our neighbors and also support Charlottesville dining institutions that are being hard hit by COVID–19.” The foundation has made a $50,000 pledge seeded by Chris and Megan Long, and aims to match that funding in the community, to provide more meals and impact more restaurants. Providers thus far include Wayside, Mel’s, MarieBette, and The Fitzroy, while recipients will include Big Brothers Big Sisters, City of Promise, the Haven and other local nonprofits and city agencies.
When each group learned of one another’s initiatives, their reaction was the same: let’s work together. Through Zoom meetings among leaders of the groups and the Charlottesville Food Justice Network, they have been discussing how to maximize efficiency — all with the shared goal of providing meals to as many people as possible.
In a city where one in six residents already struggled with food insecurity, COVID-19 has only made more daunting Charlottesville Food Justice Network’s mission to make Charlottesville food secure, says its director Shantell Bingham. The three restaurant-based initiatives, she says, are important pieces of a larger effort to respond to COVID-19 emergency food security needs. Collaborating the groups’ efforts, Bingham says, will create a more amplified and equitable impact for the community.
The great benefits of collaboration, the groups’ leaders say, will be filling gaps and avoiding duplication of effort. “When we collaborate, we are able to serve the community more effectively,” said Woodie. “We can coordinate on where meals are being provided and what restaurants need help, so we are blanketing as much of the community as possible.” To that end, the groups are sharing daily schedules of meal sources and recipients, among other information.
How You Can Help
The restaurant initiatives are all relying on charitable funding. Here’s how you can help.