SACRAMENTO – Several Black-owned restaurants have been selected to participate in a program to feed area seniors during the coronavirus pandemic.
In an effort to help seniors, who are at higher risk of getting COVID-19 to stay home, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the Great Plates Delivered program on April 24. Mayor Darrell Steinberg then launched the program at a city level.
Great Plates is based on a model called Family Meals, created by Patrick Mulvaney, owner of the midtown restaurant Mulvaney’s B&L. Faced with the COVID-19 closures of restaurants, Mulvaney and his staff wondered how they could help, with service being a cornerstone of his business. Even with their own financial futures uncertain, Mulvaney’s employees were willing to roll up their sleeves during the crisis.
“It spoke to the point of what’s best about Sacramento, that everybody’s saying ‘Hey let’s pitch in. Yes there’s problems. Yes I’ve got problems, but I’m not here to talk about my problems, we’re here to talk about solutions,’”
The effort started in March and spread from Mulvaney’s to five other restaurant friends and he’d eventually get a contact with the City to provide meals through Meals on Wheels for seniors. Mulvaney says he wants to make sure that communities of color are getting fed.
“Early on, the first recognition was that this has to be something that helps everybody,” he said.
He admits that his reach into communities of color isn’t very deep, but “understanding the need,” he reached out to people he does know for direction. Outreach efforts included contacting the ethnic business chambers and Black pastors who can spread the word to their older congregation members, especially ones who may have difficulty with the technology required to sign up, that the program exists.
“We want to make sure that if there’s someone who wants this help, that we can get them to success, that we help them navigate through it and they get the food to which they’re entitled to and we certainly want to share with them,” he said.
He first reached out to his friend, Derrell Roberts of the Roberts Family Development Center and soon 200 meals a day were going out to hungry families, many of whom were already dealing with food insecurity before the pandemic put people out of work. Most on the receiving end of the free meals have never been to Mulvaney’s.
“Folks are sending Derrell voice messages every day saying ‘Mr. Roberts, I don’t know what that was, but it sure was good.’” Mulvaney shared laughingly.
Gov. Newsom soon caught wind of the effort and expressed the desire to have it be a model for the state. The expanded program served its first meals this week. Thirty local restaurants were selected and will be paid to provide three meals a day for 50 people, which amounts to $3,300 a day for each restaurant.
The City will receive 94 percent reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the State of California over the next month pay up to 140 local restaurants, so there is still a chance for restaurants to participate. The program is an opportunity for restaurants to recoup some of the losses they’ve experienced due to having few customers. Fifty-nine percent of the restaurants included in the first phase of Great Meals Delivered are minority owned, 20 percent are African American owned and 30 percent are owned by women.
Among the first 30 selected are Colo’s Soul Food & Seafood, Louisiana Heaven, Burgess Brothers DBA Avengers Hospitality, Fixins, Momo’s Meat Market, and the Ethiopian restaurant Queen Sheba. Plates Cafe and Catering, which trains a lot of formerly homeless African Americans for jobs in the hospitality industry, was also selected. Meals will be delivered daily by Paratransit along routes, with recipients getting meals from two different restaurants during the week.
Mayor Steinberg said selection of restaurants serving diverse neighborhoods was “very intentional.” Most were shut out of $1 million in zero-interest loans the City offered to assist small businesses during the pandemic. Mulvaney says he wasn’t selected for the loan either.
He has lent guidance to the other restaurant owners, walking them through the process and also created a video of standard operating procedures to share, filmed by African American videographer Kenneth Johnston.
The Great Plates program will bring sustainability for impacted restaurant owners.
“Zion (Taddesse, owner of Queen Sheba) said ‘you know I have small farmers coming in to me. Can I keep using them?’ (I said) Absolutely. That’s the point. We want you to use them more than you normally would, because we want to make sure these things stay. The feeding is an important part of the hunger, but the other part of the hunger that’s important is making sure that Sean McArdle the milk man, still has money. That if Chinok (Yisreal of Yisreal Family Farm) is selling to Zion, that he continues to sell his purchase to her. It’s a win if R. Kelley (Farms) doesn’t have to say ‘hey I have these melons that I planted in May that are coming up, but well I can’t pay my mortgage and so the farm has to go away,’ instead in July he can say ‘hey, yeah I’m battered, but I’m not beaten, let’s go.’ That’s the other ‘feeding’ of the hunger, if you will. It’s feeding back through the supply line,” Mulvaney shared.
Although they weren’t listed as such, Mulvaney says restaurants are essential.
“We know that restaurants are important because we are centers in the community,” he said. “They’re gathering places for people to come talk about the issues of the day, to find out what’s going on, to see how you can help or how you can get help. That need is never going to change, so when people say ‘what do you think is going to happen when you open back up?’ I say ‘I don’t know, which is the hardest thing in the world for a chef to say. The other thing I say when I say I don’t know is ‘think about where we were eight weeks ago and think how much has changed in those eight weeks.’ If we look forward eight weeks, how much more is going to change and that just makes me say, ‘I don’t know where we’re going to be, but I do know that I’m going to be there and I do know that we’re going to try as best we can to make sure as many of our Sacramento families are well taken care of, so when it’s time to open back up, everybody’s ready to go.’”
Seniors can participate in Great Plates Delivered if they are 65 or older or 60-64 and are at high risk for COVID-19 or are COVID-19 positive. They must live alone or with one other program-eligible adult and must earn less than $74,940 as an individual or $101,460 as a household of two.
For more information, call (916) 330-1444 or 311. Restaurants can also sign up to participate by visiting www.engagesac.org.
By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer