NEW ORLEANS – A one-of-a-kind meal assistance program, funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), is making it possible for thousands of New Orleanians affected by COVID-19 to eat restaurant meals for free and without leaving home.
The program is currently in place through January 7, 2021, with organizers hoping that it will continue as long as the virus is impacting the community.
“We approached the state and FEMA at the federal level about supporting us on a pretty groundbreaking program where we would actually identify those vulnerable populations, allow them to sign up at 3-1-1 for this program and feed them 2 meals a day, 7 days a week,” explains New Orleans Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness Director Collin Arnold.
At it’s busiest point so far, the program was feeding about 12,000 people, but there are resources in place to feed 30,000 residents. What’s more, the program also feeds the local economy, because it has allowed more than 100 restaurants to keep some of their staff members working.
“The thing I think we’re most proud of, other than being able to help our citizens that need it the most, is that we’ve been able to engage over 100 local restaurants in preparing the food,” says Arnold.
In food production alone, at least 500 restaurant staff members have been re-employed by the program.
Chef Cam Boudreaux of Killer Poboys in the French Quarter is grateful for the opportunity to make a difference.
“Working with Chef’s Brigade has given me and my team and our business a chance to do real, meaningful work. Even though we’re not doing our primary mission, which is doing internationally inspired chef-crafted New Orleans style sandwiches in the French Quarter, we’ve been able to make real food with real ingredients, be chefs and cooks,” says Boudreaux.
Chef’s Brigade is a grassroots disaster recovery organization that came about after Katrina and has been monumental in feeding the community during crisis situations. Founder and Executive Director Troy Gilbert calls it “truly an emergency financial lifeline to many in our beloved and culturally important restaurant industy.”
Gilbert has been orchestrating the initiative, which has many players: more than 100 restaurants (including Katies, Cafe Degas, Court of Two Sisters, Domenica, Bacchanal and dozens more top-notch eateries!); the New Orleans Culinary and Hospitality Institute (NOCHI), which is organizing and storing the food; Revolution Foods which is packaging it; and d’livery NOLA, the company making the deliveries.
Meal choices even include special dietary needs such as gluten-free, vegan or low-sodium.
It only takes a few minutes to apply, and the only caveat is that you must be a resident of Orleans Parish, and cannot be receiving any other form of federal aid (such as SNAP) in order to qualify.
You may be eligible if you have a high-risk health condition such as cancer, pregnancy, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity or asthma. Getting meals delivered allows vulnerable residents to avoid crowds at the supermarket or restaurants.
The program is also ideal for anyone over age 65 or under age 18, homeless residents, or anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19, or anyone who is quarantining after exposure to someone who has tested positive.
To apply, click the link above, or go to ready.nola.gov/meals, or call 3-1-1.
Jon Schmidt is thankful for the program. He’s a hotel front desk worker who has switched to the night shift to minimize contact with the public, due to a heath issue that puts him at high-risk for COVID-19. He says the program is a lifesaver, providing delicious meals.
“I love Dat Dog and there’s a Dat Dog one in there right now I’m super excited for. It’s really good food and the flavor’s amazing and it was just so easy to do, so I’m really grateful that I’m on the program,” says Schmidt.
The program is in its sixth month, and has currently been extended until January 7, 2021.