Partnerships include food distribution initiatives in Miami, Pittsburgh and Chicago.
AUSTIN | April 13, 2020 (Updated May 14, 2020) – To address food insecurity communities are facing in the wake of COVID-19, Common Threads has teamed up with restaurants, food companies and other nonprofits to provide food distribution and other support to children and families. In addition to food distribution initiatives in Miami, Pittsburgh and Chicago, Common Threads is offering free access to its Common Bytes nutrition education website to help children, parents and educators transition to virtual education. Additional food distribution programs are in development for Los Angeles and New York.
“As schools have moved toward virtual education, too many children have lost access to supplemental nutritious snacks and meals. Common Threads provides these services through our ‘in’ and ‘after’ school nutrition and culinary education programs,” said Linda Novick O’Keefe, Common Threads co-founder and chief executive officer. “Offering meal and grocery distribution provides access and support to families during COVID-19 while also offering them more freedom to choose what to put on the table.”
The nonprofit has launched a COVID-19 Relief Fund to raise additional funding for these programs. Donations may be made at www.commonthreads.org/donate.
In Chicago, Common Threads teamed up with Top Box Foods and local restaurateurs and food companies to deliver family meals and grocery boxes for 250-500 residents per week. Distribution began the week of April 6 and will continue through at least early June.
As part of the program, special meals will be donated to hospitality employees who are now unemployed, health care workers from Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center, and outpatients from Rush University Medical Center who are facing food insecurity.
Each delivery contains a chef-prepared family meal plus fresh produce and proteins selected by the family. Boxes also contain Common Threads recipes and meal plans to provide guidance on preparing easy, affordable and nutritious meals.
Common Threads identified participating chefs, including Chef Bill Kim of urbanbelly, Chef Kevin Hickey of The Duck Inn, Chef Josh Katt of KitchFix, Chef Tiffany Williams of Exquisite Catering, Dirk & Terry Fucik of Dirk’s Fish, and Chef Paul Hitalenko of Huegah Catering Company to produce the family meal boxes. Chefs responded to the opportunity to give back while also earning income to keep some of their staff employed.
“My training as a chef gives me the platform to help others, which is why I work with Common Threads and other community organizations,” said Bill Kim, chef-owner of urbanbelly. “I knew I could not be on the sidelines wishing someone would help, and I am grateful to be part of the solution.”
The Chicago family meal initiative is supported through in-kind donations of food product from Sysco and Allen Brothers, and donations from Mariano’s, Nielsen-Massey Foundation, Quaker, Northwestern Medicine and Common Threads’ individual donors. Top Box Foods selects clients for the free chef-prepared meals if they pay for their orders with SNAP benefits. Top Box Foods is underwriting the cost of the groceries and delivery service.
“Sheltering in place can amplify isolation and contribute to the challenge of access,” said Chris Kennedy, founder and chairman of Top Box Foods. “Common Threads has used its vast networks to serve those who are most vulnerable. This virus does not discriminate, but how society cares for itself does, and Common Threads weaves us all together so we can help each other.”
In May, Common Threads will be offering a meal distribution program to approximately 160 pre-selected families from Miami-Dade County Public Schools, with two weekly distributions planned per family.
Families will receive family meal and grocery boxes containing fresh produce from Urban Food Oasis, chef-prepared meals from Chica and Common Threads recipes and meal plans to provide guidance on preparing easy, affordable and nutritious meals. This initiative was made possible through a grant from Florida Blue Foundation, gift card donations from Publix, and contributions from Common Threads supporters.
“Our community is facing uncertainty and tremendous need right now,” says Florida Blue Market President Penny Shaffer. “We must protect the health, safety and well-being of our neighbors, and work together to ensure children and families do not going hungry.”
Previously, Common Threads supported two Miami-based collaborations including feeding the children of employees from Jackson Health at a YMCA camp held at Miami-Dade County Public Schools sites, and establishing an arrangement so that families from Big Brothers Big Sisters of Miami could receive meal deliveries at their homes. With support from local funders, Café La Trova and All Day Miami stepped in to provide six days’ worth of meals for the 80 children of Jackson Health employees, and Café La Trova provided four days’ worth of family meals that were delivered to the homes of nearly 20 Big Brothers Big Sisters of Miami families (approximately 100 children and adults).
Common Threads used $3,000 in donated gift cards from grocery retailer Giant Eagle to provide “porch boxes” containing grocery staples to 600 families from all six of UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh's Family Care Connection centers. In addition to the groceries, these boxes included meal plans and shopping lists.
Common Threads has provided access to its comprehensive digital resource, Common Bytes, free of charge to children, parents and educators to provide a convenient, virtual education option for children between kindergarten and eighth grade. Common Bytes includes guided nutrition curriculum, student learning videos and nutrition education games that support instruction in math, science and language arts.
The nonprofit is also maintaining a COVID-19 resource page with recipes, wellness webinars and other community resources at www.commonthreads.org/coronavirus
Common Threads was founded in Chicago in 2003 by CEO Linda Novick O’Keefe, celebrity chef Art Smith and his husband, artist Jesus Salgueiro, as a way to bring under-resourced children together, help them celebrate different cultures and teach them about healthy nutrition. From its humble beginnings in a church basement, Common Threads now services children and families in 12 markets, including Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Washington D.C., Miami, Pittsburgh, Austin, San Antonio, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Houston, El Paso and Erie. For more information, visit commonthreads.org or search #CookingForLife on social media.