When schools across the province weren't able to welcome students back following the March Break holidays due to the COVID-19 crisis, one of the first concerns in communities was access to school lunches.
In Vancouver, the response from local non-profits and businesses was swift. The LunchLAB: Chefs for Families program was already in place thanks to local orgs Fresh Roots and Growing Chefs!, and had been providing the opportunity for students to learn how to grow and prepare food thanks to experts and industry leaders.
LunchLAB was able to pivot their model in response to COVID-19, by connecting Vancouver chefs with donated food to create healthy meals for families in need.
Working with the Vancouver School Board and a fantastic team of collaborators and supporters (including Italian Cultural Centre and Ono Vancouver), LunchLAB: Chefs for Families is providing more than 5,000 meals to 260 families each week.
Donations from the public can be made via either Growing Chefs! or Fresh Roots, and that money funds the meals.
Among those collaborators and supporters are local chefs, cooks, and restaurant staff who have been able to stay on the job thanks to the program. One key player has been the Italian Cultural Centre and their Executive Chef Jackson Noah. When bookings and events at the Centre had to be taken off the calendar, Noah was able to move into a role helping coordinate the meal program, making savvy use of donated food.
Local pastry chef Elena Krasnova, owner of Burnaby's popular Mon Paris Pâtisserie, is one of the chefs who has stepped up with her time, talents, and tasty eats to provide a real treat to LunchLAB families. Thanks to a generous donation of 50kg of Ruby Chocolate from Callebaut, Krasnova created treat packages valued at over $3,000. The talented pastry chef made Ruby chocolate bars with pistachios as well as bags of shortbread cookies glazed with Ruby chocolate. The goodies were delivered to 200 families on May 22.
“It is extremely important for me to give back to the community at this time,” explains Krasnova. “I partnered with Callebaut to create something sweet and comforting and chose LunchLAB: Chefs for Families because I wanted the treats to go moms and their families.”
“Growing Chefs! and Fresh Roots are two charities that have strong ties in the restaurant community,” adds Krasnova. ”Not only are they providing much-needed nourishment to hundreds of families in need through LunchLAB, the program is also keeping cooks employed, which is something very close to my heart in these uncertain times for our industry.”
Chef Noah is among the many who can attest to the power of community and collaboration during COVID-19 in Vancouver.
"It’s been very reaffirming to see the efforts people are willing to put into this work we’re doing," Noah said recently in a Q&A for Humans of Support.
"In times of crisis, the people in a position to help others should be making efforts to help those less fortunate, and that’s exactly what we’re seeing. More and more people are reaching out, either to donate food or donate their time to the project. As tough as things might seem for some people out there, I think now more than ever it’s important to stay positive, and make necessary efforts to help those around you."