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New Organizations Step Up to Provide Free Local Food During the Pandemic

Hard times have a way of bringing out the best in people, and this year is a golden testament to that optimistic approach. Throughout the pandemic, there have been remarkable efforts to support Austin residents with free meals, no questions asked. Here, we'd like to reiterate our admiration for the groups that have quite literally prevented countless neighbors from going hungry by sharing their own words. We encourage you to seek out their individual features.


Chris Cubas and Maris Clegg (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

Chris Cubas & Maris Clegg / Red Beans & Ricely Yours

Chris Cubas, who started making a simple but hearty meal of NOLA-style red beans and dirty rice alongside partner Maris Clegg, said, "Don't make this about us. What we're hoping is to reach more people who need a meal. It's about getting food to people who might need it – or it might just make them happy on that day. Like, maybe you have a job, you have money – but you've got child care issues, and you're stressed, and not having to cook that night helps."


Jazz Mills (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Jazz Mills / Free Lunch

Jazz Mills, along with her young daughter, started dropping off healthy meals to a camp near home but quickly ramped up efforts through community donations to feed hundreds experiencing homelessness: "Our big focus is obviously on healthy food, but also boosting morale. It's gnarly out there."

Kyandra Noble / Free Fridge

Kyandra Noble saw an existing need for fresh food grow exponentially, so she and partners set up a working refrigerator stocked with donated goods outside Nixta Taqueria: "We want people to feel comfortable taking as much or as little as they need and leaving as much or as little as they can. We're not here to – I don't wanna say the word 'police' – to judge or monitor what's happening, we just wanna get the items to people who need them. And if there's a situation where someone comes and takes a bunch of stuff, then they needed it. The fridge will continue to be stocked, so that's something that they can depend on no matter what."

Vic and Al's

Nic Patrizi shifted gears to open his brand-new restaurant instead as a soup kitchen for hospitality folks (and anyone else) when mass layoffs had the service industry in shambles. He said, "We want people to be coming in and finding some semblance of normalcy, a shared experience ... to show up in their time window, get greeted, feel comfortable and safe, be able to chat with someone who is nice really quickly, and to get great food."

Mandi Nelson / Austin Shift Meal

Mandi Nelson, a former restaurant worker, started a nonprofit to organize donated time and resources from many of Austin's favorite restaurants and packaged-goods purveyors to care for thousands: "Those unemployed furlough workers are now all of a sudden without that [shift] meal that they depended on once or twice a day. I think there's been a highlight on our industry, and how we don't take care of the people in the industry, and how that needs to change."

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