Virus Outbreak Chefs For America

In this July 13 photo, ROOH owner Manish Mallick delivers some of the 450 meals from his Indian restaurant for I Grow Chicago, in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago.

CHICAGO— Before coronavirus arrived, Manish Mallick’s trips to this city’s South Side had been limited to attending graduate classes at the University of Chicago.

Now Mallick is a South Side regular — and a popular one. He regularly arrives bearing food for the hungry from his Indian restaurant several miles to the north, in the city’s downtown.

“Thank you, sugar, for the meals. They’re so delicious!” one woman recently shouted to Mallick outside a South Side YWCA. He recorded her response on his phone to share it with his staff.

“God bless you!” she added, raising her arms for emphasis.

Mallick has personally delivered thousands of meals cooked and packed by his staff –- among them, chickpea curry and tandoori chicken with roasted cottage cheese, sweet corn, peas and rice. Volunteers from neighborhood organizations then take them to children, retirees and the multitudes who’ve been laid off or fallen sick during the pandemic.

“We all need to help each other,” Mallick says. “That’s the best way to get through a crisis.”

His restaurant, ROOH Chicago, is one of more than 2,400 eateries, from New York City to Oakland, California, working with the nonprofit World Central Kitchen to provide meals to the hungry. Traditionally, the organization has set up kitchens to feed people affected by natural disasters, such as Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico in 2017.

Now the organization is focused on this current and enduring crisis and is paying restaurants $10 for every meal they provide to those in need. It is part of a larger effort bolstered by food banks and other nonprofits, as well as the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is buying produce, meat and dairy products from farmers for its growing food box program. Many U.S. children also have been receiving meals provided by a large network of public and private sources at school pickup sites.

World Central Kitchen is among those that provide meals to schoolchildren. But its leaders are worried about their ability to sustain the effort in an extended crisis.

So they’re lobbying Congress to provide federal emergency funding to help bring the restaurant model to every state. The idea is to help not only the hungry, but also restaurants workers and farmers, who’ve been hard-hit by the impacts of the coronavirus.

“It’s a domino effect of impact,” says Nate Mook, CEO of World Central Kitchen, which was founded by chef Jose Andres and his wife, Patricia. They’ve tagged this latest response #ChefsForAmerica.

Mook says the longevity of this crisis requires federal aid, and he and others anticipate food insecurity worsening in the months to come as unemployment benefits end for some.

“We feel like this is the calm before the storm,” says Sherrie Tussler, executive director of the Hunger Task Force of Milwaukee.