Their Businesses Upended, Chefs Turn to Feeding America's Most Vulnerable Populations

Across the nation, businesses big and small are stepping up to help their communities. Here's how two families are working to get food to people who need it most.

Chef Hui

For Hawaii residents Mark Noguchi, a celebrated chef, and Amanda Corby Noguchi, an event producer, food and community are just part of who they are. "It's in our DNA," Amanda says.

When COVID-19 began making waves in the United States, shutting down restaurants, and forcing people out of work, they knew they needed to act quickly to serve their local community. The husband-and-wife duo began using their established network across the islands to get food into the hands of people who need it.

"At the end of the day, we are people of service. We thrive on community engagement, logistics, and of course food," Amanda told Allrecipes. "We said, let's not worry about events being cancelled. Let's use our skill set as connectors to fill in the gaps."

That is exactly what they have done through Chef Hui, an organization that creates opportunities to connect the culinary world with the Hawaiian community.

Serving Community on Hawaii

Their first step was calling a local nonprofit, Aloha Harvest, which rescues donated food and delivers it free of charge to social service agencies feeding the hungry in Hawaii, a state where one in five residents rely on food pantries for assistance.

"For the first month, we rescued food from hotels that were closing down, cancelled events, restaurants that were closing, and farmers. We thought that Mark and Chef Hui would be cooking more, but the focus really needed to be on rescuing food and getting it to people who were feeding their communities," Amanda explained, detailing an initiative that fell under Chef Hui's "Feed The People Hawaii" arm.

Aloha Harvest

The Noguchis knew that eventually the donated food would run out, but the need for food across Hawaii would remain, even grow. In April, they pivoted to raising funds to purchase ingredients, and created a new arm of Chef Hui - "Give and Go Meals".

"It made sense for private donors — we are keeping farmers farming, fishers fishing, ranchers ranching, keeping chefs in business, and we're feeding people. We need our farmers and restaurants to survive, or else they're going to close up shop and may never return. It's the triple bottom line. We are supporting the people who are the most in need," she said.

By using the funds they've raised with nonprofit partners, the Noguchis are able to purchase food, as well as make meals, with the help of local chefs.

"We provide chefs with an $8 stipend per meal and then we do the coordination of getting those meals into the hands of people in need," Amanda shared. "We've found a lot of success with working with community centers, because they already know their neighborhoods, so it's a way to feed people that you know are hungry and get them what they need."

To date, Chef Hui has assisted in rescuing over 100,000 pounds of food to donate and packaged over 30,000 meals for families in need.

"We are both people who feel we were put on this earth to be of service," Amanda shared. "It wasn't a conversation we had or a decision we made. We just felt like we had to step in and get in front of this the best way we could. We aren't a non-profit that has a mission of feeding people on a regular basis, but because of the connection we have to our community, it seemed like the right thing to do."

Minding the Gap in Pennsylvania

Justin Midkiff, manager and executive chef at family-run Ard's Farm in Lewisburg, Pa., can relate. As part of one of the hardest hit states in the country, pivoting into new roles in their central Pennsylvania community was crucial.

"The day the schools said that they would be closing, for the rest of the year, my wife and I were immediately concerned about the students who depend on that free lunch everyday," Midkiff said. "That one meal may only be their one real meal for the day, so without hesitation, the restaurant started a free lunch program for students of any of our surrounding districts. This was done for the first couple of weeks until the school systems got the procedures in place to be able to offer the pick ups for children."

Ard's Farm

Midkiff and his family quickly recognized an even greater need in their community.

"We needed to make sure that we could offer those in the community the ability to get food and feel safe doing so," Midkiff explained. "We started a grocery and restaurant delivery program, coupled with what we call 'family meal.' Everyday, we make a different one-pan meal sent uncooked for the customer to simply put in their oven and cook, removing the need for many of the busy families to try to figure out how to safely grocery shop, meal plan, and prepare dinner for their loved ones."

Eleven miles down the road in Hummels Wharf, Pa., National Beef, one of the nation's largest meat-packing producers, was beginning to feel the constraints brought on by the pandemic.

"They needed a way to safely feed their 500-plus employees a couple times a week," Midkiff said. "For us, this is a no-brainer. We need this facility to stay open as a community. Not every person around shops at our little local farm market [even] though we wish they would. Many people shop at larger grocery chains. Well, with every packing plant that goes down, there is an increase in pressure on the food supply chain. Prices go up, shelves empty faster. So, every Tuesday we make over 500 sandwiches and deliver them to National Beef."

Through it all, Midkiff remains focused on what he can control — using food to bridge the gap.

"We're all just people doing the best we can on any given day," Midkiff said. "If anything, I just hope that we help make people's lives a little better during this time. I hope if there's anyone worrying, struggling, we can help take some pressure off."

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