When David Nash, executive director of the Housing Authority of the City of Asheville, recognized the dire need for meals faced by many elderly and homebound residents during the COVID-19 crisis, he knocked on opportunity’s door — Green Opportunities, that is.
For several years, the nonprofit, housed in the Edington Education & Career Center, had operated Kitchen Ready, a training program for people interested in culinary careers. Nash first reached out to chef Hanan Shabazz, who had been a driving force behind Kitchen Ready.
“The Southside Community Kitchen had been pretty much closed for around six months, so I called chef Hanan to see if she thought it would be a good idea to get it up and running,” Nash explains. “We had already been talking about a long-term plan for Kitchen Ready, but the immediate need was to operate a crisis kitchen.”
For help, Shabazz turned to chef friends Mark Rosenstein, who founded The Market Place restaurant 40 years ago; John Fleer, chef and owner of Rhubarb, The Rhu and Benne on Eagle; and Blackbird chef and GO graduate Kikkoman Shaw. “We all kind of mobilized to get something going very quickly,” says Fleer. “The first few days we simply did soup — it was the easiest thing to make a lot of — and cornbread.”
The program kicked off March 24, exactly one week after North Carolina ordered restaurant dining rooms closed. On the first day, Housing Authority maintenance workers delivered 100 meals to residents. On the second day, they delivered 150, then 250 on the third.
“The people in the kitchen took that weekend to pause, catch up and get ahead, but by Monday, March 30, they were making 300 meals a day, which is where we are now,” says Nash. “We will add more as we hear of more need.”
Fleer says the group has branched out beyond soup to other things that can be made in quantity, such as lasagna. The group also intends to add a fresh vegetable and “something dessert-y.”
The partnership between the Housing Authority and GO has received permission from Buncombe County to redirect funds intended to supply the Kitchen Ready program to emergency food preparation instead. Nash hopes to use funding from a city grant to allow the facility to resume offering training, specifically in how to set up and operate crisis kitchens.
“There’s a lot of hard stuff out there right now,” says Fleer. “But there are positive things happening, too, and this is one of them. People coming together to feed people in need, that’s a good thing.”