CHESTERTOWN — If boredom inspires creativity, then an influx of bulk food items inspires the creations of restaurant-quality meals for seniors crafted by local chefs.
Chefs Barbara Esmonde from Barbara’s on the Bay, Steve Quigg from The Kitchen at The Imperial, Germaine Lanaux from Germaine’s and Jeff Carroll from the Fish Whistle at the Granary have offered their culinary skills for use by the Social Action Committee for Racial Justice in its food distribution efforts.
The committee also has received donations of bread from Magnolia Caterers and from Bill Schindler with Washington College’s Eastern Shore Food Lab.
Arlene Lee, SACRJ co-chairman, said after the committee received a large donation of Sysco food through the district Lions Club, they were not sure how to best utilize the donation. Items like frozen chicken breast could be easily delivered to seniors, but there were other donations that were “not really manageable to just give out as they were,” Lee said, like large cans of tomatoes.
Through a conversation with Esmonde, Lee said the local chef suggested having others like her prepare meals at their restaurants using the bulk ingredients. This solved not only the issue of how to best utilize the ingredient, but also provided a solution for how to prepare the food.
Esmonde sent out calls to chefs and requested a list of ingredients from the SACRJ so they could begin concocting recipes.
Using the donated ingredients — aside from spices the chefs may have at their restaurants — Lee said meals are chili dishes from the Kitchen, baked ziti from the Fish Whistle, chicken ala king from Barbara’s among others.
Meals go out at about 11 a.m. to noon on Tuesdays and Thursdays with the first deliveries sent on April 14.
Lee said meals are delivered to people’s porches in order to maintain safety for those making the deliveries and to abide by social distancing protocol.
Volunteer drivers first collect the meals at the Kent County Community Center in Worton, then drive on prepared routes through the county. Lee said some work in teams of a driver and a person who runs the meals to porches while others work solo. She said altogether, the meals are delivered by a group of eight to 10 volunteers total.
Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic reached the Eastern Shore, Lee said more than 170 people in Kent County have offered their time to volunteer with food delivery — 87 people have reached out to specifically deliver meals to seniors.
“I’m overwhelmed by the generosity in this community and overwhelmed by the need in this community,” Lee said. “And I think this crisis has allowed us to see both of those things really clearly.”
Lee said the SACRJ received names of seniors who may need meals through organizations like Upper Shore Aging, the Department of Social Services and HomePorts. She said these agencies expressed concerns about seniors being able to go to the grocery store.
Other seniors were referred to the committee by family members.
Lee said the committee is continuing to add names to its meal list. Currently they are delivering to about 150 houses and about 190 people.
Speaking to her pride in the amount of people willing to volunteer in the community, Lee said this crisis also has shown the amount of need here too. She said last year Rosemary Ramsey Granillo, director of the Kent County Local Management Board, completed a needs assessment and since created a three-year plan focusing on addressing basic needs — housing, transportation and food.
“(Granillo) had already really begun to look at how poverty impacts our county and what that means for children, families and the elderly,” Lee said.
Lee said Granillo and her team discovered “poverty runs pretty deep here” noting after the restrictions are lifted, these issues should be addressed. Lee said the Kent County Office of Emergency Services and the Local Management Board have begun discussions of how to “take over” and expand upon what SACRJ has started.
Lee said addressing the need within the community is proving to be entirely possible as the committee is feeding close to 200 seniors using a team of 10 drivers, 10 volunteers filling bags at the community center and some volunteers assisting chefs.
“It’s not a huge amount of manpower,” Lee said.
She said SACRJ also raised money to buy ingredients — about $10,000 in donations came within a few days primarily through posts on Facebook. She said the committee is using that money to purchase food items from local farmers and growers.
“It does highlight that we’re not doing anything that couldn’t have already been in place,” Lee said. “We’re just sort of finding out how to tap into what already exists here.”