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Initiative Helps Furloughed Workers, Food Insecure

A new initiative is working to combat the issue Lexington has with food insecurity, amidst COVID-19 and with restaurant employees out of work. Nourish Lexington was created to utilize the skills and talents of hospitality workers recently unemployed due to the pandemic to provide meals to those in need.

The initiative is run by FoodChain with support from many other organizations. The Administrative and Communications Coordinator of FoodChain, Morgan Miller, spoke to WRFL about the initiative.

Tell us about what FoodChain is:
Before the pandemic, we are an educational non-profit. We reside in the same building that West Sixth Brewery is in and there we operate an indoor aquaponics barn, where we grow fish, as well as greens, in one interconnected resource-conserving system. We also have a teaching and processing kitchen where our goal is to model what a sustainable, multiple food system would look like in the heart of a food desert. Basically, it is working to address food insecurity, while also working to promote education around those issues.

What has FoodChain done to transition during COVID-19?
Immediately we all knew with schools being closed the most immediate thing that we were worried about was feeding the students who rely on those meals at lunch. Even though Fayette County Public Schools have some obligation to feed students, it is not nearly enough. We also worried about more vulnerable populations, like senior citizens, and people who are going to be more high risk for the virus. We knew we really needed to work on getting food out to people who were already food insecure and who already slip through the cracks, and make sure they aren’t being left behind in the wake of this virus. With that said, another cool component we do at FoodChain is we work with a lot of local farmers and we rescue surplus food. So, we have a freezer full of locally sourced and seasonal fruits and vegetables. We also really quickly realized that restaurants were going to be severely affected by this and that they had a lot of food that was going to go bad and expire. We were able to listen to other restaurant stores and caterers and get them onboard to donate perishable food items and even donate their time and skills to get these meals made and distributed out to the community.

How was Nourish Lexington born?
We realized pretty quickly that the demand was substantial and that our little staff and the help of a few other people wasn’t going to be able to skim the surface. So, we were lucky, we got together with VisitLex, the Murray Family Foundation, as well as Keeneland, and we were able to then form Nourish Lexington. What that helps us to do is be able to contract out meals to other caterers and restaurant owners so that we aren’t the only ones who are making all of these meals. That helped to then increase the number of meals we could distribute out. Now we are distributing out about 8,000 meals a week.

Are the meals only from donations?
No, no. We have to buy a lot of ingredients. So, that is what a lot of the fundraising goes towards. The donations from restaurants—we used what we could, and we did a good job at getting as much as we could, but I feel like that was a finite resource. So now we have to purchase ingredients. And of course, we are still working with local farmers. Right now, with COVID, they are having a decrease in demand right now and so we are asking farmers, ‘What can we pay you to make it worth your while to harvest your vegetables instead of letting a field of asparagus turn?’ [The meals] are always made from scratch, they always incorporate local ingredients, and they are always nutritional.

How are you getting people to help with meal-making and distributing?
We have been able to contract out meals with caterers and restaurant workers who have been furloughed and pay them to come in and help us make these meals and distribute these meals.

How does someone donate to Nourish Lexington?
You can go to FoodChain’s website and we have an emergency food fund donate button on the homepage. You can also go to Nourish Lexington’s website and donate there.

How does one get a meal from Nourish Lexington if in need?
Anyone who needs a meal, you just show up. We distribute these meals outside of FoodChain and outside of Red Mile at 5:30 pm Monday through Friday. Some days we run out and somedays we don’t, so I say if you can get there at 5:30 it is usually best.

What else would you like for our audience to know?
Nourish Lexington is a really moving and empowering initiative that would not be possible without so many wonderful people in the community who have come together to create these meals. From donating facemasks to dropping off a hundred pounds of hemp hearts, it really has just been a silver lining with how many way people are helping out.

Miller mentioned that as long as there is a need in the community, they will continue to provide the meals.

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