The coronavirus pandemic has taken a big toll on the restaurant industry as well as financially strapped families.
In Utah, the Nourish to Flourish Initiative is working to link those communities in a mutually beneficial cycle.
It goes like this: restaurants cook up healthy meals for those in need. Community nonprofits distribute the meals. The restaurants get paid for the meals, helping them stay in business and keep people employed to make more meals for the hungry.
The most challenging link in that chain, however, is drumming up enough money to keep the initiative going.
Since the pandemic began, the Lightspark foundation, a nonprofit created and run by Sentry Financial, has provided $100,000 for the initiative. This week, Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson announced the county has chipped in $450,000 — enough for about 60,000 additional meals.
“What this program does is both support restaurants, keeps them running,” Wilson said at a news conference Wednesday. “At the same time, we’re seeing more and more people receive healthy food.”
The county funds come from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
Nourish to Flourish has delivered about 19,000 meals to date, according to its website.
Seven restaurants have provided those meals so far, including Trio, Himalayan Kitchen, Pulp Lifestyle Kitchen, Greek Souvlaki and Spice Kitchen Incubator, a program that helps refugees and low-income residents create sustainable food-related businesses.
Community nonprofits like the United Way and Catholic Community Services deliver the meals to food insecure families. Aden Batar of Catholic Community Services said the refugee families he serves especially appreciate the partnership with Spice Kitchen, since the chefs are also often resettled refugees themselves.
“They feel like home” eating the meals, Batar said, adding that he wants to see the program continue. “Number one, it’s very nutritious, secondly it’s culturally appropriate for them and also religiously appropriate.”
Partners in the program stressed that in order for the initiative to remain viable, it will take ongoing support.
“This is truly a community effort ... it takes the restaurants to prepare the food, it takes the service providers to distribute the food and it takes the community to help fund it,” said Jonathan Ruga, co-founder of the Lightspark Foundation, who went on to thank Wilson and the county. “We’re only constrained in this point in time by funding.”
To learn more about the Nourish to Flourish Initiative and to become a partner, visit nourishtoflourish.org.