Several employees of chef Alexis Starkey‘s catering company Farm to Feast were tear-gassed during protests on Monday night. The next morning she woke up, like so many others, wondering how she could be useful. She texted her team: Hey, do you guys want to feed some protesters?
“We aren’t political organizers, but what we do know how to do is make food, and protesters need to eat,” Starkey says. “I hope we’re helping in a small way to sustain the protests.”
Starkey reached out to some organizations, but wasn’t able to coordinate quickly with them. So she recruited some volunteers and just started making turkey and cheese and hummus and veggie sandwiches. Her team asked friends to donate, then posted on social media. Overnight, they raised more than $2,300. The sandwiches—500 and counting—are labeled with QR codes that direct people to ACLU’s guide to protester rights. The team has been posting up at 16th and I streets Northwest and also providing masks and hand-sanitizer.
So many people are donating, marching, and reflecting as protests against racial injustice and police brutality swell across the country. But for many of those in DC’s food and drink scene, still struggling from the Covid-19 pandemic, the obvious thing to do is feed people.
Most of their efforts aren’t organized in any official capacity. Restaurants and other businesses are using their social media followings to collect supplies and donations and hitting the streets to give out what they can. On Wednesday, a manager from Call Your Mother handed out a 100 bagels. A bunch of people posted about it, so the bagel shop is now offering more to any groups that wanted them. Mount Pleasant Spanish restaurant Mola put out an email blast to its followers to collect pre-packaged granola bars, water bottles, and other items. Neighbors showed up a short notice with everything from paper towels to sanitized swim goggles to protect against tear gas, and co-owner Erin Lingle filled her car and headed downtown in search of a drop-off spot. The restaurant has since gotten more donations from restaurant neighbors like Elle and Each Peach Market, and a vendor hooked them up with a discount to double their supply purchases for another drop on Saturday.
Red Bear Brewing, a gay-owned brewery in Noma, has transformed into an even bigger supply drop-off spot for a newly formed group called Freedom Fighters DC, which has been coordinating legal, medical, and other resources for protesters.
“People came out. We had over 600 cases of water. We filled the storage unit,” says taproom manager Liz Cox. “We had continuous donations for over nine hours.”
Red Bear is now trying to target the most-needed items for protests this weekend: protein snacks, traffic cones, individual sunscreens, walkie talkies, rain ponchos, and more you can find here.
Pastry chef Kandis Smith, who was an executive baker at the Wydown before the pandemic, initially looked to Amazon to buy supplies for protesters when she saw the initial list of what was needed from Freedom Fighters DC.
“I’ve worked in restaurants so long. I’ve done so much ordering,” Smith says. “It just clicked in my mind. I just thought of all the restaurants that are shutdown right now not really using things, or might have excess to things they don’t know what to do with.”
So Smith has been using her Instagram to try to collect plastic gloves, packaged snacks, folding tables, gallons of milk, vinegar, and more from restaurants. “We’re able to get things at a very discounted price, we’re able to get things in really, really large quantities, and we’re able to to get them really, really quickly. So it just kind of made sense.”
Burmese restaurant Thamee is assembling 500 sandwiches for protesters, but for co-owner Simone Jacobson, that’s just a continuation of the work she and her team have been doing all along. Finding ways to empower black and brown people has been built into the business since its inception.
“We partnered with people of color to open the restaurant. We staffed the restaurant with people of color,” Jacobson says. The H Street spot also held a bimonthly supper club highlighting chefs of color in order to create a launchpad for up-and-coming talent who might otherwise lack a platform.
Since March, Thamee has been operating a community kitchen, providing more than 2,000 meals to healthcare workers and other frontline staff at the DC jail. The restaurant is working with José Andrés‘s World Central Kitchen, but Jacobson made made a point to partner with the jail, where she previously volunteered to teach yoga classes for inmates.
“They’re overworked, understaffed,” Jacobson says. “We’re specifically feeding black people because we specifically know that black people are disproportionately affected by this virus.”
So yeah, of course Jacobson will be feeding protesters too. But she also hopes her industry will do more.
“It has to be an ongoing effort because white supremacy didn’t start when George Floyd died, and it’s not going to end when these protests end. There are so many ways that our industry can be effective beyond just feeding. We can employee people and then treat them well and make safe spaces for them.”