Cooking for Community
The organization Cooking for Community, sprouted in direct response to the COVID19 pandemic, is poised to launch an innovative approach to feeding a growing hungry and underserved population in the Greater Portland area on April 13th. Through a pilot program collaboration beginning with two Portland restaurants, Chaval and Little Giant, and four social service organizations, Catholic Charities of Maine, Wayside, Amistad and Preble Street, Cooking for Community will enable production and delivery of hundreds of locally sourced, warm, fresh meals during its first week. At the same time, it will create and revise the structure and best practices for its expanding program model. Ultimately, the volunteer-run group hopes to expand to involve many more local restaurants, local food providers and donors to feed hundreds, possibly thousands of underserved, unemployed, elderly, and homeless people each day. Ellie Linen Low, a Portland-area mother and community advocate, dreamed up the idea and it moved into action through a conversation with Leslie Oster, local chef/caterer and Director of the Blaine House for Governor Janet Mills. Their idea? Feed a large number of people and put money back into the local economy by raising funds for restaurants in need of work to cook for people in need of food. “And from there, the idea just took on a life of its own,” Ellie Linen Low explained. “Social services agencies, including Good Shepherd Food Bank, report a skyrocketing demand for food support across the Portland community. Tens of thousands are out of work and hungry. Cooking for Community is our way of creating a ripple effect of support!” And since that initial conversation, the support mechanism has helped raise $55,000 in donations. Enough, they say, to start the project on April 13. “We are hoping we can rally the community to donate as much as they can,” Leslie Oster added. “Portland is a city known for its unique restaurants and hyper-local food scene. If this sector, which employs 10% of our local population collapses, tourism rates will fall, too. The Cooking for Community model supports all of these sectors simultaneously.” A Fund has been set up that receives tax deductible contributions from individuals, businesses and foundations. The money goes directly to pay local restaurant partners to cook easy to reheat, packaged
meals, using primarily locally sourced and donated ingredients. Meals will be distributed to people in need through social services agency partners reaching the unemployed, the under-served, the elderly and immigrants—in the first week, producing 450 cooked, nutritious meals for elderly, homeless and under-served. This model reinforces a positive feedback loop: restaurants can pay employees, leveraging payroll funding from the Cares Act federal stimulus package. Producers, farmers and individuals in the fishing industries, a big part of this loop, will receive financial support. The model also uses donations of perishable food goods that would otherwise go to waste. Our hope is to inject essential nourishment, resources and hope back into thousands of Mainers’ lives. Anyone in need will know where and when they can depend on a free meal, cooked with love from all of us in Maine.