Prior to COVID-19, Fare Resources, a food consulting and catering company in Emeryville, earned most of its revenue from feeding tech clients. It created 1,500 meals a day for a few offices across the Bay Area.
These days, Fare Resources is still making 1,500 meals a day, but now its clientele is completely different. Since May 18, it’s become Fare Community Kitchen, a fiscally sponsored project of San Francisco-based cooking non-profit 18 Reasons, working to feed food-insecure communities.
“When we lost all of our office clients, we wanted to find a way to keep things going,” said Nina Mendez, the director. “We knew there would be a need for food assistance, and the goal became not so much to keep us open, but to make sure food goes to people who need it most.”
While disparate wealth and food insecurity have been longstanding problems in the Bay Area, with up to one in eight people being food insecure, Mendez noted that with COVID-19, that statistic will only get worse the longer the pandemic goes on.
“Many believe we haven’t seen the full effects of [COVID-19] on food insecurity yet,” she said.
When Fare Community Kitchen launched in May, it donated 900 meals. A week later, it gave away 1,880. It since has donated more than 38,000 meals to community partners in the East Bay, with the largest recipient being the Oakland Unified School District.
With schools being closed, children who qualified for the school’s free lunch program were not only without a classroom, they were out what might have been their only full meal for the day. And in a household where a child qualifies for a free meal, the rest of the family is likely food insecure as well. With this in mind, Fare Community Kitchen creates family meals that feed four to six people. The meals are distributed at three public schools in Oakland: Sankofa Academy, Hoover Elementary and International Community School.
Although its customer base has changed, Fare Community Kitchen’s menu has not. Its new clients are getting exactly the same meals as its former paying clients, such as barbecue chicken with heirloom beans and grilled asparagus, polenta pie with beans and vegetables served with maple-glazed yams and hot sauce, and spaghetti and vegetarian meatballs made from lentils and quinoa with steamed broccoli. Everything is scratch-made, and almost everything is organic. Whatever food Fare Community Kitchen doesn’t source from small farms, it gets in a partnership with Food Shift, the Alameda-based nonprofit that diverts food from going to waste.
“The feedback we’re getting from family members is really incredible,” said Mendez. “They’re not used to the level of thoughtfulness that goes into our dishes. Unfortunately, there’s a much lower bar for food assistance meals. We’re putting out the same exact food we put out to our tech clients, as we don’t believe they deserve anything less than our paying tech clients. If anything, these people need such high-quality food even more.”
“We’re putting out the same exact food we put out to our tech clients, as we don’t believe they deserve anything less than our paying tech clients.” — Nina Mendez, director of Fare Community Kitchen.
So far, Fare Community Kitchen has partnered with about 12 other nonprofits, mostly smaller, grassroots organizations like Homies Empowerment, East Oakland Grocery Cooperative, East Oakland Collective and the YMCA of the East Bay that are lifelines to the communities they serve. They’ve also dropped off some meals in the Town Fridges that have appeared around town.
Although the company was able to pivot its mission for the times, it also was greatly affected by the pandemic. Fare Resources laid off a portion of its staff, but was able to retain about 26 employees for Fare Community Kitchen, Mendez said.
“We’d love to be doing 1,500 meals every day like we were before, and be able to hire back all of our staff,” she said. Fare Community Kitchen is currently looking for grants and donations from individual donors to help it reach its goal.
“We’ve just started looking for major donors,” Mendez said. “We’re hitting the ground running for fundraising, applying for grants, and starting conversations with potential individual donors. We live in an area that has an incredible amount of individual wealth and we’re doing a good thing that we think is fundable.”
Homies Empowerment, a nonprofit afterschool program in Oakland’s Eastmont neighborhood, has greatly benefitted from Fare Community Kitchen’s work.
Two weeks after the shelter-in-place orders, Homies began operating its People’s Freedom Store, giving away items like diapers, formula, toiletries and food, including fresh produce, flour, salt, sugar, rice and beans.
JP Hailer, coordinator of partnerships with Homies Empowerment said the freedom store serves some 400 families a week. Fare Community Kitchen has provided dry bulk items and organic produce for the store, as well as 20 vegan meals to feed the store’s volunteer staff, who are also from within the community.
“The meals are really high quality,” Hailer said. “I often hear the volunteers, and not only overhear how delicious they are, but they’re surprised by the fact that they’re vegan.”