The Boys & Girls Clubs of St. Helena and Calistoga ramped up its meal program during the fires, with help from a big-name nonprofit.
With people returning to work, the club was getting ready to wind down its Feed Our Families program, which had been established to provide food for people who’d been affected by the COVID-19 shutdown and to keep restaurant workers employed during the pandemic.
However, the LNU Lightning Complex fires created new demand for food as thousands of people were displaced and, in some cases, even lost their homes.
The club hit the road to deliver meals, water, N95 masks, gift cards, pet food and other supplies to displaced families of club members staying at campgrounds or in their cars. Executive Director Trent Yaconelli opened the St. Helena and Calistoga clubhouses to evacuees so they could use the Internet and get out of the smoke.
The club had already been teaming up with Press restaurant and the Rudd Foundation when representatives of chef José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen (WCK) got in touch after learning of the Feed Our Families program on Facebook.
Since 2010, WCK has served approximately 20 million meals to disaster victims around the world. The operation was preparing meals in Vacaville, and organizers wanted to partner with the Boys & Girls Clubs of St. Helena and Calistoga.
Yaconelli offered to let WCK prepare meals in the club’s kitchen in Calistoga. He also got them in touch with chef Cindy Pawlcyn of Mustard’s, which began providing 150 meals a day.
There are already talks about WCK renovating the kitchen and using it as a base of operations during future disasters.
“It looks like it’s going to be a lasting partnership,” Yaconelli said.
Between COVID-19 and the fires, the club has provided about 21,000 meals to families.
Disaster relief may seem far afield from the Boys & Girls Club’s original mission, but “you have to be willing to pivot and be flexible,” Yaconelli said.
“What I thought our job was – after-school care – has changed radically in the last year, and if I don’t change and move with it, then I’m not supporting our families,” he said.
To donate to the club, or directly to the Feed Our Families program, go to bgcshc.org.
You can reach Jesse Duarte at 967-6803 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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