Program a Win-Win for Restaurants and Families in Need
By Cheryl Costello
Feed Anne Arundel was a simple concept born early in the COVID-19 pandemic: use struggling restaurants and their employees to serve up meals for those who are having trouble keep the fridge full.
The organization, started by the owner of Eastport’s Bread and Butter Kitchen, has been such a success over the last nine months that Anne Arundel County is now throwing a $1 million grant behind their efforts. The funds are good news for the effort to feed those who need help and for the restaurants who support them.
On Saturday morning, CBM Bay Weekly saw a long line of cars waiting at Tyler Heights Elementary School in Annapolis—the site of a pickup for families to supplement their groceries with meals from local restaurants.
“Today we have meals from Metropolitan, Ashling Kitchen, Leeward Market, Little Spice and Chart House,” Feed Anne Arundel founder Monica Alvarado told us, showing the lineup of to-go boxes.
Last week, Alvarado, who owns Bread and Butter Kitchen, learned of the county’s $1M grant. As indoor and outdoor dining close again this week, the grant will help to keep the doors open and employees working.
“It’s much bigger than just helping a restaurant. It’s helping the economy as a whole,” she says.
“We’re paying $50 to each restaurant per family meal that feeds six people. So, it’s certainly not a profitable venture for the restaurants, and it’s not intended to be. It helps cover their bills, allows them to bring their employees in, allows them to keep working with their vendors, farmers and watermen to make sure they’re also engaged,” says Alvarado.
Feed Anne Arundel has raised about $250,000 so far. The new grant will keep the wheels turning for the first half of 2021.
“Before the announcement of the million dollars, we had 44 restaurants participating. Since the announcement we’ve had about 25 restaurants that have reached out to participate so we’ll be signing them up as well,” she says.
People seeking food assistance don’t have to be from Annapolis or Anne Arundel County. In fact, they’ve seen people from as far away as College Park. An intake form documents how many people are in the family.
And help doesn’t stop with meals. Marcella Sarate, who was lined up on Saturday, tells Bay Weekly, “For me the more important thing is diapers. I have two children, one baby and one older but she is disabled.”
Tearfully, Sarate told us, “Yes, this helps. I’m a single mom.”
Volunteer Kari Benoit teamed up with Alvarado to bring diapers, feminine hygiene products and other toiletries to Tyler Heights. “The Amazon guys ask me, ‘how many kids do you have?’” Benoit jokes. She says the families that come seeking help, “can go sometimes and buy and can of beans and rice but they cannot afford diapers and wipes.”
Benoit’s children pitch in, too. Her daughter, Isabelle, 17, says, “My favorite thing is just that I’ve started to get to know them and I know the people and now I know what they need and I’ve been able to have like actual conversations with them instead of just putting diapers in, and it’s become more personal, which is like really important to me.”
Many people in the line have jobs in the service industry. “The work has been slow, sometimes [there is] no help for the work,” says Ludys Martinez, who is also a mother.
Richard Rogers is the principal of Mills-Parole Elementary School in Annapolis. He came to volunteer and see how the giveaways run, since his school will become a new Feed Anne Arundel host site starting in January. “We have a lot of families who are in need and families who during this time are struggling so we want to be able to provide food and necessities for the families,” says Rogers.
Feed Anne Arundel has served 70,000 meals since March. It’s full-circle—helping restaurants stay in business helps people stay on their feet.
“If a restaurant is open to make these meals for me, then they are open to serve their customers,” says Alvarado.
And businesses outside the food industry are getting involved, too. A fundraising effort at antique and vintage shop Park Home in Severna Park raised $1,500 for Feed Anne Arundel over the weekend.