Through the pandemic, catering companies have seized the opportunity to serve—and not just serve their paid customers.
Heather Hofmann, director of sales for Bold Catering & Design in Atlanta, estimates the company has prepared more than 100,000 meals for COVID-19-related causes since March 2020. Recipients include frontline workers such as officers for the Atlanta Police Department, assisted living staff and nurses for several hospitals in the city. Bold Catering also partnered with Meals on Wheels for six weeks, preparing more than 30,000 servings of protein for the organization. Additionally, collaborating with nonprofit Atlanta Family Meal, Bold Catering donated more than 10,000 family-size meals to families in need over Thanksgiving and Christmas.
In addition to using their own resources, some companies decided to invite their customers to feed the community.
Castellucci Hospitality Group, also based in Atlanta, launched a #FeedtheFrontlines campaign, giving customers the opportunity to feed medical professionals. On each CHG restaurant’s online ordering page, customers have the option to add Meals for the Frontline to their cart for $15 (the cost of one meal). CHG matches each purchased meal and delivers them to staff at local Emory or Piedmont hospitals. The program was activated during the summer and again over the holidays.
Richard Nix Jr., president of Butler’s Pantry in St. Louis, was overwhelmed by the generosity of his customers as well. Nix says he fielded many calls from clientele wanting to send meals to frontline workers, especially in the spring.
“Our longtime generous clients called and asked us to make 100 meals for St. John’s Mercy Medical Center, or 100 to a particular nursing home,” explains Nix, who threw in a special dessert or message of gratitude inside many of the boxed meals. “It was a great way for our patrons to keep us busy but also for us to get to do something for the community.”
In addition to feeding frontline workers, Butler’s Pantry also provided several thousand meals to those facing homelessness. Nix and his employees worked with Peter & Paul Community Services and other local food programs to provide food.
“Normally, they had volunteers come in and prepare meals," says Nix, "but at the beginning, no one felt comfortable going out anywhere—especially to a shelter to volunteer. We were able to step in and fill that void.” He says his team got creative and prepared bagged meals that could withstand the summer heat and lack of refrigeration.
On the West Coast, DJ’s California Catering has cooked lunch and dinner for 130 at-risk seniors seven days a week through Great Plates, a collaboration with FEMA. The team boxes and packages three days’ worth of lunches and dinners at a time, says Doug Biggs, president of DJ's. The partnership began in April 2020 and continues to be renewed monthly.
“The program has been a lifesaver, both for the seniors and for us,” Biggs says. His chefs prepare the food, cool it and package it in microwavable clamshell containers for the seniors.
His team has also developed a collaboration with a local sheriff’s department to supply food for people facing homelessness. Biggs created a system where an entire day’s worth of food—breakfast, lunch and dinner—is packaged together in a brown bag.
Vibrant Table Catering & Events in Portland has delivered meals for food-insecure Native American communities across Oregon, such as the Umatilla and Warm Springs reservations. Collaborating with the Wave Food Program, which provides the funding and ingredients, the Vibrant Table staff prepares and packs the meals.
Similarly, funding from Project Access NOW has enabled Vibrant Table to cook meals for local nonprofit organizations such as Blanchet House, New Avenues for Youth and Adelante Mujeres.
Like most Americans, the caterers hope that life—and business—returns to normal soon. However, perhaps the spirit of service is something that can continue, pandemic or not.