When Brandon Henry, catering manager at the Next Generation Center, got a call last April from Support + Feed, an organization offering vegan meals for families in the Bronx, he didn’t hesitate to accept it.
Lockdown was dragging on and there was a great need for food in a community hit hard by COVID and the resulting unemployment. The first 45 meals from a local vegan restaurant were delivered to Children’s Aid at the beginning of May and distributed by the Next Generation Center to families in the area.
Actor, musician, and long-time advocate for plant-based foods Maggie Baird wanted to keep vegan restaurants running through lockdowns. She formed Support + Feed to channel business to them by feeding frontline staff and communities most vulnerable to the health and economic effects of the pandemic.
Allison Kingsley knew Maggie and offered to help her expand Support + Feed into New York from its origins in Los Angeles. She was looking for organizations that would see the value, not just in meals, but in incorporating more plant-based foods into people’s diets for the long term.
“Reaching out to Brandon was one of those serendipitous moments when two people connect at the right time with the right idea,” she said.
Support + Feed encourages donations to vegan restaurants and each week the Next Generation Center provides meals from Beyond Sushi, Marty’s V Burger, Monk’s, Peacefood Kitchen, Urban Vegan Kitchen, or Veggie Grill. In addition, this partnership provided 250 five-course Thanksgiving meals to Children’s Aid families.
“Amazing,” is how Dawnette Artwell, director of the Next Generation Center, describes the experience with an organization that didn’t exist before lockdowns began in the United States.
The unexpected partnership has given Brandon and Dawnette another way to support Children’s Aid families during especially dire circumstances. The Next Generation Center reduced staff and moved programs online to keep youth safe, but it did not close. The center wouldn’t leave young people without a place to go for support. “We always have kids who are in crisis, so we need to make sure their needs are being met,” Brandon said.
Both Brandon and Allison point to an outreach program on Election Day when they provided hundreds of empanadas from Veggie Grill and protein shakes from Kate Farms to people as they waited to vote. The initiative supported Children’s Aid’s efforts to encourage voting by providing plant-based snacks to people who had to wait in long lines. “That was a great example of how two organizations can support each other,” Allison said.
Brandon sees long-term potential in this partnership. He hopes when the kids are able to return full time to the community center, these restaurants can help the culinary program source ingredients and help the students learn to cook plant-based meals. He would also like to place interns at the restaurants to give back to the businesses. They helped Children’s Aid nourish our families and give them one less thing to worry about – a small relief that was hard to come by this year.