During the COVID-19 lockdown, St. Helena and Calistoga have a lot of hungry families, unemployed restaurant workers, and philanthropic muscle.
Does that give you an idea? The Feed Our Families project, backed by the Rudd Foundation and other donors, is way ahead of you.
Press, Gott’s, Brasswood, The Charter Oak, Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch and chef Josh Mitchell’s The Pickled Pig have teamed up with the Boys & Girls Clubs of St. Helena and Calistoga to prepare and deliver meals for Upvalley families experiencing the economic effects of the pandemic.
“It’s a win-win,” said Press chef Philip Tessier. “The Boys & Girls Club is thrilled that we’re supporting their families … and it’s allowing us to keep our staff employed.”
As of earlier this month, Feed Our Families had served more than 5,200 free meals to 185 families, including 406 Boys & Girls Club kids.
“Eight hundred meals a week seems great, but we’re just scratching the surface of the real need out there,” Tessier said.
Feed Our Families is modeled on efforts like Sonoma Family Meal, formed during the wildfires of 2017, and chef Jose Andres’ nonprofit World Central Kitchen.
Aside from feeding families, the project is generating work for people who might otherwise be laid off.
Seventeen members of the Boys & Girls Club staff are working on Feed Our Families. Restaurants have been able to retain or rehire 21 staff members, and have spent a combined 480 hours of work time collaborating on meal services, according to Trent Yaconelli, executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of St. Helena and Calistoga.
In late March the Napa Valley Vintners tipped off Yaconelli that the Rudd Foundation was looking for a nonprofit partner to help local restaurants keep their employees at work providing food for struggling families.
Yaconelli met with Tessier, who offered to lead the fundraising. Yaconelli offered to host the project under the Boys & Girls’ Club’s nonprofit umbrella and said his staff would identify families in need and distribute the food.
“We’ve got tons of families who were under the poverty line and tons of families who’ve now lost their (income),” Yaconelli said.
In less than two months more than $100,000 has been raised, led by a $60,000 donation from the Rudd Foundation. Other sponsors include Theorem Vineyards, Clark Vineyard Management, Josh and Heather Clark, Saunter Wines, Heritage School Vineyards, and Trinchero Family Estates.
In addition to Press, Gott’s, Brasswood and The Pickled Pig in Calistoga signed on to prepare food. Farmstead and The Charter Oak are the latest restaurants to join the effort.
Wineries donated wine to be sold with the proceeds going to Feed Our Families. Companies like Snake River Farms, Flannery Beef, Tenbrink Farms and Gulfish have donated more than a ton of food, according to Tessier.
One hundred percent of the money goes directly toward food for families. Boys & Girls Club staffers who are working on the project are being paid out of the club’s operating budget, Yaconelli said.
If a family can’t pick up food at one of the Boys & Girls Club’s distribution sites, a staff member will deliver it to their doorstep.
Yaconelli’s staff has deep contacts among Upvalley families, and he said the need is only intensifying.
“We’ve seen more families lose more income,” he said. “At first maybe one parent was unemployed, and now they’re both unemployed.”
Tessier wants to raise more money and bring more restaurants on board.
“Our minimum goal is to make 350 meals a day,” Tessier said. “Ultimately we’d need 800-plus a day to feed everyone on (the Boys & Girls Club’s) radar.”
The Boys & Girls Club has also handed out 390 handmade face coverings to kids in St. Helena, Calistoga and Angwin.
Even pets are benefiting. The Boys & Girls Club teamed up with Wine Country Animal Lovers to deliver pet food along with the human food. Yaconelli said some elderly pet owners would rather go without food themselves than see their animals go hungry.
To learn more, or to donate to Feed our Families, go to bgcshc.org.
Editor’s Note: Because of the health implications of the COVID-19 virus, this article is being made available free to all online readers. If you’d like to join us in supporting the mission of local journalism, please visit napavalleyregister.com/members/join/.
You can reach Jesse Duarte at 967-6803 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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