Bold and Creative: 5 Ways Chefs Have Fed Kids During the Pandemic

2020 was especially challenging for chefs and restaurant workers, but despite these challenges, they stepped up to ensure people in their community had access to food. Chefs across the country have supported our goal of ending childhood hunger for over three decades.

Today we celebrate and highlight five creative and courageous ways chefs have supported kids and others in need during the coronavirus pandemic.

To these hero chefs and heroes everywhere, thank you!

Chef Patrick Mulvaney, Chef Brad Cecchi and Clay Nutting Building a Coalition of Restaurants to Distribute Food in Sacramento, CA

Boxes of food in focus. Man filling them out of focus

Patrick Mulvaney has been a long-time supporter of No Kid Hungry. He, along with Chef Brad Cecchi and restaurateur Clay Nutting, started Family Meal Sacramento, a non-profit with the objectives of feeding people in need and keeping restaurant workers employed during the stay-at-home orders in California. 

Since its inception in March, Family Meal Sacramento has expanded to include 10 additional restaurants. Together, they distribute food to hundreds of families at 15 schools in the Robla and Sacramento City Unified School Districts. Many families have expressed that these meals may have been the children's only food for dinner.

In addition to reaching families with meals, Family Meal Sacramento has enabled restaurant workers to keep their jobs ‒ but the significance of the program went beyond just that. “They got to see the food that we were putting together get into the hands of people that really needed it,” Nutting shared. “That was great for me personally.”


Restaurateur Tom Sasser Using Math and Heart to Inspire and Help Families and Restaurant Workers in Charlotte, N.C. 

After learning about Chef Erik Bruner-Yang’s Power of 10 Initiative on the Add Passion and Stir Podcast, restaurateur Tom Sasser understood that the key to making an impact in the community was in the numbers. 

The Power of 10 Initiative’s model is simple: for every $10,000 raised, a restaurant can provide 1000 meals and hire or retain 10 employees for a week. Sasser was inspired by this model to support families in need and offer his staff opportunities to work. Together with his team, Sasser was able to provide a total of 6,000 meals over 14 weeks for families identified by No Kid Hungry partner OurBridge, a local Charlotte nonprofit. 

“They were not only coming to work to try to continue to have a job, but they were able to really help some folks,” Sasser said of his team members. “When they saw some of their fellow workers who weren’t working come to the restaurant and pick up a meal, it was a moment of real clarity of what's going on and how tough it is out there for everybody.”

Man handing a box of food. Woman putting it in trunk of car. Both wearing masks

Chefs Alex Raij and Eder Montero Cooking Healthy Meals in their Neighborhood in New York

Like many chefs across the country, Chefs Alex Raij and Eder Montero were forced to pivot quickly to keep their four independent restaurants afloat and keep their staff employed. 

Raij and Montero partnered with Henry Street Settlement, a social service agency on the Lower East Side, to cook 800 healthy meals a week for their clients. “What I found super remarkable is that we actually live in that neighborhood,” Chef Raij shared about the families who received the meals.

This partnership enabled Raij and Montero to not only keep their staff employed, but also  emphasized that these employees took the lead in the design and preparation of the meals. “They are more like colleagues than employees,” they explained, “especially after this crisis because of the autonomy and the full-on decisions that they took.”

Chef Duskie Estes Providing a Shining Light in the Middle of a Double Crisis in Sonoma County, CA

Bunch of Radishes

This summer, California’s Sonoma County was hit simultaneously by the coronavirus pandemic and wildfires that devastated the wine industry, leaving 1 in every 3 people in the area potentially facing hunger and raising the unemployment rate to 15%. The rates are especially high among hospitality and agriculture workers, many of whom are people of color.

In times of crisis, Chef Estes typically helps in the same way she has for over 30 years: by cooking. Early in her career, she worked for our parent organization Share Our Strength to help launch what is now Cooking Matters and cycling in Chefs Cycle for No Kid Hungry.

This year, she decided to step out of the kitchen, becoming the executive director of Farm to Pantry, an volunteer-led organization that has gleaned over 200,000 pounds of healthy produce in 2020, tripling the normal yearly amount gathered and shared. In the aftermath of the California wildfires, other chefs including Guy Fieri, Preeti Mistry, Tanya Holland, and Domenica Catelli pitched in to help, too.

“There were usually 40 high need families before the pandemic, and now they are looking at lines of 200 to 500 hundred cars,” Chef Estes said about the increased need in a food distribution center operated by Farm to Pantry’s partner, Corazón Healdsburg.

“I get the immediate gratification of seeing the joy that good food brings to people,”

Chef Estes says about her impact. On Halloween, one of the kids supported by the program “was more excited to get his box of produce than to go out and get some candy.”

Chefs Zach Bell and Clay Conley Adding Love and Thought to Each Meal in West Palm Beach, Fla.

West Palm Beach, Fla., a community with a high cost of living and where many people rely on restaurant jobs, was hit hard by the economic impact of the lockdown. Chefs Zach Bell and Clay Conley -- who have supported No Kid Hungry for more than a decade -- quickly pivoted to launch Buccan Provisions, a nonprofit arm of their restaurant group, dedicated to distributing quality meals and produce to vulnerable families in their community. 

Early in the pandemic, Buccan Provisions formed a partnership with No Kid Hungry and Humana to provide high-quality meals to vulnerable families with young children.

Chef Bell and his staff prepared and delivered meals, incorporating feedback from the families along the way. In partnership with Cooking Matters, they designed and distributed educational printouts about healthy eating and crayons for kids. They also included cards with recipes and information about the produce and the meals they received.

Jennifer Bell from Buccan Provisions shared the thoughtfulness their employees were putting into each delivery. “We want to bring a smile to their faces, and let them know that this is not an afterthought so they feel special.”

2020 has been an unprecedented challenge. 1 in 4 kids in our country may face hunger because of the coronavirus pandemic. But chefs across the nation have stepped up for the challenge and have found creative ways to feed their communities.

You can stand alongside chefs like these in helping feed children when you donate to No Kid Hungry. Extraordinary times call for extraordinary generosity. Give now.