LEWISTON, Maine — As part of their studies, the students at The Green Ladle not only practice in the kitchen, they also serve the public in a restaurant setting- and handle a catering business. They had two large functions booked on March 14th, serving over 700 people.
"We prepared the food, we bought the groceries, and because of the virus, everything got cancelled. So we had a freezer full of food. I called my director, Mr. Callahan, and I said “Rob. We have all this food in the freezer. And I know the community – they’re scared. They just need to be fed. And Rob gave the blessing immediately," says Chef Dan Caron, a culinary instructor at The Green Ladle.
And with that, the students and staff returned to the kitchen, rolled up their sleeves, and started pouring their hearts – and their considerable talent – in to feeding those in their community who most needed a meal.
Rob Callahan is the Director of the Lewiston Regional Technical Center, and as the burners were firing up in the kitchen – he put out a call for volunteers who could help deliver the meals. Chef Dan says, "Within two hours, he got back to me – and says, “Chef. I’ve got five vans, 10 to 12 volunteers that want to deliver food” – we started just a very few days after that.
They put the word out on social media, offering free meals to the elderly, disabled vets, and first responders. And after starting on the first day with 120 meals – it quickly grew to preparing and delivering around 450 meals each day. Right now, it costs about $1300 each day to purchase and prepare the food for this number of meals.
"It’s really gratifying to know that students have taken this with such seriousness and have been incredibly effective," says Director Callahan.
Businesses are donating, chefs are lending time and ingredients. Donations come in all sizes and shapes. "Obviously we do get the $100 dollar donations – but every day we get this lady, and she puts it in an envelope I believe it’s like three dollars in quarters, and she write a little thank you note," adds Chef Dan.
The delivery teams follow safety protocols and CDC guidelines, social distancing when they deliver and wearing masks and gloves – they have a safety coordinator as well, overseeing the whole process. The folks delivering the meals are all Lewiston area teachers. For some folks, seeing that van arrive with a meal is the highlight of their day.
"There’s almost no words to describe it. The gratitude and appreciation they show - - we have people that give us a little smile or a wave from the window – there’s a gentleman that sings to us from behind his window – there are folks that leave us notes – there are folks that leave us a check, there are folks that leave us a little chocolate or something. We have relationships with these people and it’s been tremendously uplifting," reports Callahan.
The delivery folks spend a minute or two chatting and checking in – delivering a measure of comfort along with a hot meal.
Chef Dan cannot measure how this feels personally and for the team. "I would say the biggest thing that impacts me is - - every day the drivers come back and they’re like, “Chef, we’ can’t stop this. We just cannot stop this. These people need us.” And that’s what drives me, and that’s what drives my students. And I know that’s what drives Mr Callahan and all the teachers. We’re fortunate to have a community that’s supporting us."
The goal is to keep the operation going through Mid-May. The need is tremendous, and Chef Dan feels they could double their output, if they can continue to fund raise. If you would like to learn more, click here, or contribute to their Go Fund Me page, click here.