Local Chefs Tackle Hospitality Unemployment and Hunger

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By Dave Eckert

It’s called The Community Meals Project, and its initial three to five million dollar goal is to keep Kansas City restaurants open and food industry workers employed while, at the same time, providing thousands of healthy meals for those in the city who are “food insecure.” The group behind the massive effort is Chef Collective KC, a network of Kansas City-area chefs, food industry partners, and growers. Calling it a “workforce preservation and hunger relief effort,” Chef Collective KC hopes to keep participating restaurants’ doors open and their employees on the job. Chef Collective KC was launched by Jon Taylor of Reach Collaborative, a community problem-solving organization, in collaboration with three Kansas City chefs and restaurants: Chef Howard Hannah of Crossroads Community Kitchen/The Rieger, Chef Michael Foust of Black Sheep, and Chef Brandon Winn, formerly of the Webster House. “This crisis shines a light on existing food system vulnerabilities many on our team have been thinking about and working on for several years. Through The Community Meals Project, we are addressing the rise in food insecurity while, in tandem, building a new sustainable model that will help local growers and restaurants emerge stronger than they were before,” Taylor said.

Hanna and Foust have both transitioned their restaurants into emergency community kitchens. By partnering with Chef Collective KC, The Rieger and Black Sheep are developing a more sustainable model that is stable, funded, and safe for their culinary teams to continue producing large quantities of free meals. For Winn, working on The Community Meals Project was a natural fit. “I resigned from Webster House the day after Valentine’s this year to shift industries, learn a new craft, and travel. Once Howard initially pivoted with Michael swiftly following, I saw this as a time act, network, unite and truly embrace what farm to table chefs have been built for-connectivity and adaptability,” Winn said. “This trying time has taught us all the value in our craft, personal relationships, and our ability to mobilize to be impactful. Stronger together. Our food systems and our community need us. We have an opportunity to meet those needs.”

The founding funder of The Community Meals Project is Bank of America. A supporting sponsor is the Visit KC Foundation. Other business and food industry leaders are lending their support as well, including J. Rieger & Co. Ryan Maybee, Rieger’s Vice President of Sales and Hospitality says it makes sense to support the effort on all levels. “Chef Howard Hanna of The Rieger was immediate in his response to this crisis and has led the charge to feed those in need. We knew that there would have to be more restaurants to follow, and that it would take a full community effort to meet these challenges. We’re proud to support his efforts, Visit KC, and the Chef Collective KC in any way that we can to help those in need. Beyond feeding the hungry during this time, this initiative will also help preserve many jobs and businesses in the hospitality industry,” Maybee stated.

Sourcing food from a network of food distributors, and local and regional growers, both packaged and perishable items will be delivered to Kanbe’s Market, a centralized receiving, processing, and distribution center. Once inspected, ingredients will then be allocated to participating kitchens and prepared into meals. Those meals will be delivered to locations throughout the community, including:  City Union Mission, Lykins Neighborhood, Sheffield Neighborhood, and Morningstar Youth & Family Life Center. In addition, four restaurants will be hosting Industry Nights as part of the Project to feed hospitality workers: Room 39, Brewery Emperial, Waldo Thai, and District Pour House. Chef Collective KC expects the project to grow with new sponsors and additional restaurant participation. They hope to address hunger in the community and create restaurant jobs at the same time. The group says the first phase of fundraising is underway with the goal of $1 million. Chef Collective KC says the goal is to grow the program nationally with an overall goal of raising $5 million to help end hunger.

To learn more about or to support the Community Meals Project, go to www.chefcollectivekc.com. Chef Collective KC’s Community Meals Project is a sponsored project of Community Capital Fund (CCF), a nonprofit organization that invests in innovative and measurable community development in the Kansas City region. Learn more about the Community Capital Fund at www.ccfkansascity.org.

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