Iowa City restaurants are partnering with nonprofit food pantries and the Community Foundation of Johnson County to provide freshly prepared meals to those experiencing food insecurity amid community spread of the virus.
Former Iowa kicker and NFL player Nate Kaeding and Deluxe Cakes and Pastries owner Jamie Powers together co-founded the Food with Love project after seeing a need for meals in the Iowa City community, Community Foundation of Johnson County Executive Director Shelly Maharry said.
“Marrying entrepreneurialism with love of community is what really created this,” Maharry said.
Kaeding came to the Community Foundation with an idea for restaurants to join up in response to a need for meals locally, Maharry said. He saw there was both a need and idle food.
Together, they worked with experts in food insecurity, verified the need for food with partner Table to Table, and identified the best places for distributions, Maharry said.
The result was the Food With Love project, which aims to satisfy the need among local residents for more meals, keep restaurant workers employed, and create additional no-contact volunteer opportunities, Maharry said.
“We are keeping people employed, we are keeping restaurants open, we are feeding those in need,” Maharry said. “It just makes sense.”
Within the project, Table to Table and Common Table — both nonprofit food pantries in Iowa City — are responsible for estimating the number of meals they think are necessary. That number is sent to LaTasha DeLoach, coordinator at the Iowa City Senior Center covering logistics for the project, who then informs participating restaurants on how many meals to prepare.
Meals are prepared by St. Burch Tavern, Pullman Bar & Diner, DeLuxe Bakery, and Big Grove Brewery. A volunteer picks up the finished food from a designated restaurant and delivers it to one of the nonprofits for distribution, DeLoach said.
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By April 24, the project had prepared and distributed around 3,500 fresh meals, DeLoach said.
DeLoach has always had a personal and professional desire to help address food insecurity in any way that she can, she said, and the Food With Love project is helping her fulfill this lifelong passion.
“If I can help get the people who can prepare the food to the people who need the help, how can I help?” DeLoach said. “I’m going to sign up right away.”
St. Burch Tavern and Pullman Bar & Grill Managing Partner Cory Kent said he was more than happy for both restaurants to help with the project.
“Just because the rest of the world is on pause doesn’t mean people don’t need food,” Kent said.
Kent views this project as a win-win situation — the restaurants get to give back to their community and their employees get to keep a steady income.
The Food With Love project is funded solely by donations from community members, Maharry said. The project has raised $53,000 in support so far, Maharry said.
The restaurants are operating fully off of donations, DeLoach said, which doesn’t leave them much of a profit. This shows just how much these restaurants care for their community and strive to give back, DeLoach said.
She hopes this project will continue to help the Iowa City community through the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“They’re not making a profit off of this. This is really a project of love,” DeLoach said.
With restaurant operations nearly shut down because of COVID-19, Kent said business might be dipping in comparison to full-swing operations, but the restaurants will continue to give back to their community and keep fighting to make the best out of this unprecedented situation.
“For the city of Iowa City to be flexible with their resources to support such a great program says so much about the community that we live in and where our priorities are, and that’s serving and supporting each other,” Maharry said.
Maharry said she believes this project reflects greatly on the Iowa City community and how willing it is to help neighbors in a time of need.
“There’s no greater way to share your love and friendship with someone than sharing a meal,” Maharry said.