ST. LOUIS — Jose Andres is no stranger to stepping up when there’s a disaster-level need for help.
The award-winning D.C. celebrity chef emerged as a leader – and humanitarian – when Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico in 2017. His organization World Central Kitchen, along with a grassroots effort of chefs and volunteers, cooked up millions of meals for those in need.
Now, with a different kind of emergency in the U.S., Andres’ is working to feed a different kind of need during the coronavirus pandemic– helping health heroes, including those in St. Louis area.
World Central Kitchen has teamed up with Frontline Foods, which has now partnered with the St. Louis-based effort Meals for Meds.
For about a month now during the coronavirus pandemic, Meals for Meds has been a movement among local restaurants where customers can donate money to help sponsor meals for hospital workers on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19.
More than two dozen restaurants have signed on so far, and with the new partnership with Frontline Foods and World Central Kitchen, the donations will be able to go even further.
The new partnership means donations through Frontline’s St. Louis website will be tax-exempt, which could be an incentive for more giving and even bigger donations.
Also, restaurants will be paid for every meal they deliver. While Meals for Meds runs on donations to a certain extent, it also means a lot of restaurants eat up, or cover, some of the cost of the meals themselves. Now, they’ll get paid back.
Anyone with a hunger to help our health heroes can still donate through the Meals for Meds website, but now you can also visit the Frontline Foods St. Louis webpage, where the money you donate will go into a big pot that’s then distributed to restaurants to pay them back for the meals they send to front line workers.
The partnership doesn’t just help feed front line workers, it’s also helping keep kitchens open and restaurant employees on the payroll.
Brian Hardesty, co-owner of Guerrilla Street Food, told the Abby Eats St. Louis podcast team his restaurant is doing OK right now with takeout, curbside and delivery – and a huge part of that is the Meals for Meds program. He said it accounts for about 25% of their business lately.
“Without the support of everybody donating meals to the hospitals, I’m not sure we would be having the same conversation," Hardesty said. “That's been where we really have kind of gotten a lifeline is people donating food to the hospitals by way of, you know, buying it from us.”
Kirsten Brown, who runs the front of the house at Knead Bakehouse and Provisions in south city, said it’s allowing her to bring back employees.
“It's allowing us to hire our employees back that we had to furlough. And it's also giving people a way to, you know, people are stuck at home, they want to help. They want to do something, but they don't know how. And they don't know what. So, they're able now to donate,” Brown said.
Brown has been helping lead the Meals for Meds effort. She said she’s excited to see how many more restaurants and residents will rise to the occasion to help those on the front lines.
It's allowing us to have more restaurants, more hospitals, because we're going to have a pool of money that we can allocate a little bit more to hospitals, which would be great,” she explained. “It's going to be really exciting to see what happens over the next couple weeks.”
This story is a companion piece with the Abby Eats St. Louis podcast episode called "Feed the need." You can download the episode and subscribe for free wherever you get your podcasts or by using the links below.