Partnerships include food distribution initiatives in New York, Miami, Los Angeles, Chicago and Pittsburgh.
AUSTIN | April 13, 2020 (Updated July 13, 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 New York, Miami, Los Angeles, Chicago and Pittsburgh, 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, which have been supported by corporate and foundation donors and individual contributors. Donations may be made at www.commonthreads.org/donate.
Several efforts are underway to provide food access to families within Los Angeles this summer, including:
Funding for these programs was made possible through private donations and grants from Quaker, The Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts, and Change Happens Foundation.
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Common Threads is delivering family meals and grocery boxes to 150 pre-selected families at PS 111, Jacob Blackwell School in Queens, on two delivery dates in June. The boxes contain fresh produce, shelf-stable foods, reheatable meals from restaurants such as FieldTrip NYC, and nutrition education materials and recipes from Common Threads.
Future initiatives are being scheduled to support New York residents, including distribution of groceries and families meals for families from PS 31, Samuel F. Dupont School and distribution of shelf-stable food for discharged patiences and outpatients at NYU Langone Hospital Emergency Department and the Family Health Center.
Support for these programs has been provided through grants from NY Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan and the Lilah Hilliard Fisher Foundation as well as funding from Quaker. Funding from Assemblywoman Nolan also allowed for the addition of digital Small Bites nutrition education classes at PS 88, Seneca School, in Queens.
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In May and early June, Common Threads will be offering a meal distribution program to up to 160 pre-selected families from Miami-Dade County Public Schools per week from May 14 to July 11.
Families will receive family meal and grocery boxes containing fresh produce from Urban Food Oasis, chef-prepared meals from Yardbird or All Day Miami, and nutrition education materials and recipes from Common Threads. This initiative was made possible through grants from The Batchelor Foundation and Florida Blue Foundation plus gift card donations from Publix.
“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).
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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 mid-July.
As part of the program, special meals were donated to hospitality employees who faced unemployment, health care workers from Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center, and outpatients from Rush University Medical Center who faced food insecurity.
Each delivery contains a chef-prepared family meal, fresh produce and proteins selected by the family, and nutrition education materials and recipes from Common Threads.
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 Center for Community Health 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.”
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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.