Local restaurant initiative distributes warm meals … and hope
By Heather Wright
At a time when food pantries are running out of supplies each week and restaurants are permanently shutting their doors, a restaurant initiative started in Riverdale Park has distributed more than 5,000 meals, put more than $50,000 into local restaurant coffers and is expanding into Hyattsville and other Route 1 communities.
Food insecurity is on the rise during the pandemic. Area food pantries have increased their supplies three-fold but are still running out of food each week.
Even the most stalwart local restaurants are struggling to keep their lights on. In an Aug. 28 email, Franklins Restaurant, Brewery and General Store owner Mike Franklin wrote, “We are up to around 50% of previous business while keeping around 75-80% of our staff. Needless to say we are losing money.”
“In late March, it was becoming really clear that food assistance needed to really be ramped up,” said County Councilmember Danielle Glaros (District 3) in an Aug. 31 interview. “We also knew that a lot of our restaurants had been closing down, and we needed to figure out ways to get food into the community.”
To address these concerns, Glaros and more than 25 community partners, including Central Kenilworth Avenue Revitalization Community Development Corporation (CKAR CDC), area churches, SEED (Sowing Empowerment & Economic Development), and Kaiser Permanente formed Greater Riverdale Cares (GRC) in early April.
The restaurant initiative is a part of this broader effort to address food insecurity. Banana Blossom Bistro, Denizen’s Brewing Co., 2Fifty Texas BBQ/Dumm’s and Riviera Tapas Bar — all from Riverdale Park — were the first eateries to join the initiative.
“As a small business, we’re always left behind,” said Riviera Tapas Bar co-owner Patricia Martinez in a video statement. “[The initiative] helps us to pay some of the bills and to come up with new ideas that led us to not give up during this pandemic time.”
Restaurants that sign on to the effort agree to provide a nutritious warm meal with a protein, starch and vegetable, stated CKAR CDC Executive Director Patricia Hayes-Parker in an Aug. 27 interview. Restaurants receive a stipend of roughly $10 per meal, according to Glaros, and usually provide about 100 meals on a weekly or bi-monthly basis.
“People are so excited to get the hot meals,” said Glaros. “I think everything we do is about bringing hope to the community. It can be as simple, I think, as getting a meal into someone’s hand or some food into someone’s hand — people knowing that there’s people out there that care about them in this time of need.”
In early summer, the restaurant initiative joined forces with Route One Communities Care, expanding its reach into Hyattsville, College Park and University Park. Additional restaurants have signed on, including Emerita’s Pupuseria & Carry-out and Shortcake Bakery from Hyattsville and Food Factory, Krazi Kebob and Marathon Deli from College Park.
“All around us, we know there’s a huge need,” said David Brosch, an organizer of the initiative and a University Park resident. He explained how the effort aimed to help those without jobs, including restaurant workers, and added, “And we want restaurants also to survive because one of the nice things about this community is our restaurants.”
Glaros agreed, saying, “I’m excited about this expansion. I’m excited for more restaurants to be able to benefit from this initiative and idea. I’m excited for it to grow, and I hope the community embraces and continues to help financially support it because it’s completely driven by financial support — money comes in and money goes out.” She added, “So, really, it’s local contributions that will make the difference in keeping this initiative alive. And at the end of the day, all of us who love our local restaurants … have a stake, I think, in ensuring their survival.”
Hayes-Parker expressed hope that the initiative could build to nine restaurants providing 200 meals every week. The group would need to raise approximately $280,000 to fund the program at this level for the rest of the year.
“My hopes are that we can get through this Covid period, and we would have helped [some local restaurants] keep those lights on, keep a few employees, until we get a new vaccine and a new normal appears,” said Hayes-Parker.
Your $40 donation can feed a local family of four a nutritious meal from a local restaurant; recurring monthly donations are especially needed. If you are able, please consider donating to the initiative at gf.me/u/x4bmfa or send a check to CKAR CDC and write “Route One Communities Care” in the memo.