Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Charleston, SC Chefs "Feed the Need" Initiative Reaches Six Month Mark

With the holiday season quickly approaching, demand at food banks across the country will soon peak, particularly at a time when U.S. unemployment rates are at the highest levels in years. To help feed the hungry and alleviate some strain on local emergency food providers in Charleston, Mickey Bakst, General Manager of one of the city’s top restaurants, Charleston Grill at the Charleston Place Hotel, created the Charleston Chefs Feed the Need program, pulling together local restaurants, caterers and hoteliers to serve weekly meals for up to 500 people. Launched on April 22, 2009, the program recently passed its six-month service mark and has to date has helped feed approximately 14,000 people, saving food banks an estimated $42,000.

Bakst created the idea for Feed the Need after learning that a budget crunch had forced Crisis Ministries to close its soup kitchen once a week and he hopes to expand the initiative to other cities. Since kick off, soup kitchens throughout Charleston have been taken over by a different restaurant, caterer or hotel one day of each week to serve meals to approximately 500 individuals and save the charitable organizations about $1,500 per week. In addition to Crisis Ministries, organizations supported by Feed the Need include Tricounty Family Ministries, East Cooper Meals on Wheels and Neighborhood House.

Sue Handshaw, Director of Tricounty Ministries, one of the largest food shelters in Charleston, said that as a result of program, “We are able to stretch out food dollars in these hard economic times. As food costs rise, so does the cost of overhead to prepare, pay increasing utility bills and transportation of donated product costs, as well as paper goods and cutlery. This program is a huge reprieve from a financial sense.”

The program is set to continue into 2010, with six additional companies joining the original 52 participating companies, bringing the total to 58 participating restaurants, caterers and hotels. Other local organizations have recognized the impact of the program and gotten involved in various ways, including through monetary donations. Firefly Distillery recently raised $4,700 for Feed the Need through a local charity fundraising event and has also donated proceeds from sales to the cause.

“The community support over the last six months has been tremendous and Feed the Need has become a great success which we look forward to continuing in 2010,” said founder Mickey Bakst. “The program structure is simple and can be executed with minimal effort in any community with far-reaching results. In addition to serving much needed meals to children and families, this program has brought our community together and introduced the next generation of food service staff to volunteerism,” added Bakst.

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