When the coronavirus arrived in the United States and forced many community-resource organizations to close their doors, we knew we had to act swiftly to ensure our ability to safely remain open and continue supporting those in need, not only in our own neighborhood but throughout the country. Our efforts rapidly evolved into four distinct relief programs: a massive expansion of our Portsmouth Community Kitchen’s capacity to prepare and distribute meals; an updated disaster service protocol designed to prevent viral spread among staff, volunteers, and meal recipients; a groundbreaking grocery box program providing nutrition staples to struggling families; and a partnership with USDA distributors to get agricultural surplus to communities in need while supplementing key pantry items necessary for complete meals.
As of February 2020, the Mercy Chefs Community Kitchen was preparing approximately 1,500 meals per week in our local community. Just a few months later in June, they were serving about 15,000 meals per week. Our incredible chef team and an ever-growing group of local volunteers have created more than 195,000 meals since March. Using our commercial food distributors, we’ve also been able to acquire basic grocery products at discounted prices and supplement retail items as needed to create nutritionally balanced grocery boxes for families. Following the success of our own pilot program, Mercy Chefs started working with USDA Farmers to Families centers to assist in the distribution of their grocery boxes. We are supplementing these produce and dairy boxes with proteins and grains to make it easier for families to prepare complete meals. We are distributing these boxes in locations across Oklahoma, the Panhandle of Florida, and Puerto Rico.
When the year began, we knew we were called to increase in 2020, but none of us could have seen this coming. With the addition of grocery box distribution nationwide, our capacity to reach more people every week has expanded far beyond what we ever could imagine, and the need continues to grow. Thank you for your continued support.