Eight months ago, local marketing professional Catherine Campbell launched Asheville Strong as an online directory for purchasing gift cards to support locally owned businesses during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, the organization has published a digital cookbook (Asheville at Home), created a microgrant relief fund for local small businesses (Asheville Strong Fund) and completed the steps necessary to operate as a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit.
Asheville Strong’s newest initiative, Feed Our City, takes its concept from Restaurants for the People, a COVID-response program launched in mid-May by Spanish chef and humanitarian José Andrés through his World Central Kitchen nonprofit. The goal of both efforts is to help independent restaurants by paying them to feed people in need.
Cúrate co-owner and executive chef Katie Button joined Restaurants for the People when it was created, and soon she and her staff were cooking 1,500 meals a week, including 600 for Haywood Street Congregation’s Downtown Welcome Table. Cúrate was still closed at the time, and the initiative allowed her to rehire some employees, Button told Xpress for a story in June.
“We saw an opportunity for Asheville Strong to participate with WCK as a volunteer hub, or we could create a similar locally focused program to keep as many dollars in the community as possible,” says Campbell. “We decided to go local.”
Cúrate opted to shift its efforts to join Asheville Strong’s new local project, and Feed Our City was launched in late October with the delivery of 600 meals from La Bodega by Cúrate to the Downtown Welcome Table.
“It was a seamless transition,” says program coordinator Brandon Amico. “There was no need to reinvent the wheel. We just needed to follow these proven, effective models that accomplish two goals at once: feeding people in need in our community and helping independent local restaurants stay in business.”
Biscuit Head and Twisted Laurel have also been selected to participate, with one additional restaurant to be announced. Restaurants are paid an amount per meal to cover food and packaging costs, labor and some overhead; seed money for the program was provided by a private foundation, and a matching campaign begins this month with the goal of securing $350,000 to cover six months.
Once committed, participating restaurants are directed to Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project program director Molly Nicholie, who helps identify local farm partners to work with.
“This pandemic has really shined a light on what happens when national supply and transport systems break down,” Amico points out. “Building strong and resilient local connections benefits and strengthens our community, now and for the long run.”
For more on Feed Our City, visit avl.mx/8o6.
UPDATED on Nov. 11 to include the latest restaurants selected to participate in the initiative.