Earlier this year, World Central Kitchen — a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that provides meals as part of disaster relief — started the Frontline Foods program. It feeds first-responders working through the coronavirus pandemic.
When Chef Danielle Leoni, co-owner of The Breadfruit and Rum Bar, got involved with Frontline Foods' Phoenix operation, though, she saw a different need. Nurses, firefighters, and other first-responders in the area have been able to get food fairly easily here. “Where I am in Phoenix and the Valley, that’s not really where the need is,” Leoni says.
But pandemic-related unemployment among Phoenicians is quite high, and it affects a lot of local families. That gave her the idea to redirect the organization’s funds from feeding frontline workers to families in need.
Derrick Anthony, Frontline Foods' lead organizer in Phoenix, says Leoni’s idea was an inspirational evolution.
“She came up with something that’s far more creative than I was going to be able to,” he says.
Leoni took the suggestion to assist hungry families from Les Dames d’Escoffier International, a philanthropic, female-focused culinary group of which she is a member. The group introduced her to A New Leaf, an organization that provides shelter to families affected by domestic violence and poverty.
Leoni heard A New Leaf’s budget was small, which made it a challenge to feed homeless families. As someone who'd grown up in a poor household with a working mother, Leoni was inspired.
“My mom never had the time to cook. The food we got was processed and canned,” she says. Leoni decided she could help by getting both high-quality, locally sourced food and state assistance information into the hands of those served by A New Leaf.
The program she proposed to Frontline Foods included distributing partially prepared meal kits. Participating families receive kits that feed four. Leoni says the kits are 75 percent meal ready, with a little bit of prep and cooking left (yes, recipe cards are included).
The program has so far received funding for 1,000 meals, which were delivered to A New Leaf and Roosevelt Community Church for distribution.
Packaged with the meal kits is information about public transit, farmers' markets, the Arizona’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Double Up Food Bucks — which can be spent on Arizona-grown produce.
Leoni and her husband Dwayne Allen, the Breadfruit’s other co-owner, called back their kitchen staff — many of whom were laid off in March — to help prep the meal kids. They also got about 10 students from the Arizona division of the Careers Through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP), which helps train high school students to become chefs, to help.
“[Dwayne] actually came in and cooked a little bit, which I was really surprised about," Leoni says. "Dwayne is all about cocktails."
According to Anthony, Frontline Foods plans to expand the type of work Leoni began, possibly nationwide.
“We are definitely very inspired by the work Danielle’s doing right now,” Anthony says. "We plan to probably double down on that program."
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