A vat of soup – well, make that a very large vat of soup – 300 gallons’ worth – has gone a long way, allowing a group of longtime Evanston residents to bring hundreds of freshly-prepared meals to the community’s school families.
Members of the volunteer group Feeding the Village Evanston, some whose connections go back to grade school, have now used their pipeline to a company – Brett Anthony Foods in Elk Grove Village, which produced the soup – to deliver meals to five different District 65 schools.
The group’s name, Feeding the Village Evanston, sort of defines their mission, harkening what some of the members parents did, going back a generation, said Darlene Cannon, one of the group’s organizers.
“It’s about paying forward,” she said. “We should always be trying to help each other.”
Last week, in a corner of parking lot behind the Levy Center, at 300 Dodge Ave., Feeding the Village members set up tables and handed out 200 specially brined chickens and 144 freshly made prepared meals to families from Willard and Lincolnwood schools.
Ms. Cannon credited Bruce Allen King, a quality control technician at Brett Anthony Foods, as the catalyst.
Mr. King, whose family has deep roots in the community, was working at the company last month when he overheard a manager talking about 300 gallons of soup the company needed to get rid of because the customer for it, Whole Foods, had changed its recipe formula.
“I can take care of it,” Mr. King offered. “I have some place for this to go.”
The area was in about the second week of the pandemic at that time and Mr. King began reaching back to his home town. He said Nina Kavin, associated with the social media website Dear Evanston was a key facilitator, supplying the names of people in the community who could help.
He said Brett Anthony executives President Brett Stein, Executive Chef Don O’Macel, and Vice President of Operations Alex Ghantous were especially supportive.
“I can’t say enough about them. To say, ‘Bruce, that’s yours, fine – that just blows me away,” he said of the group, saying the process “just vibrated with such humility, such honor.”
The 300 gallons of soup became available with Whole Foods changing its recipe for the item. The company, which employs professional chefs, had about 1,500 discontinued meals from Fresh Thyme, another customer, which had just changed its menu.
“I’m talking Corden Bleu kind of stuff,” said Mr. King, naming some of the dishes – chicken Parmesan, chicken mayonnaise, turkey with stuffing and mashed potatoes.
In addition, the company put out about 2,000 pounds of brined chicken, which it was moving to clear space,” he said.
Ms. Cannon said Mr. King reached out to her husband, Ronnie, who, in turn, reached out to Erich Muhammad, another Evanston resident, about using Mr. Muhammad’s truck to do the pickups.
Mr. Muhammad said he called Mr. King before driving out. “He said, ‘Well, we’ve got some food we’re going to donate. Let me know when you can pick it up,” Mr. Muhammad related. “I said, ‘How much food have you got? He said, ‘Well, how much food can you take?’”
Mr. Muhammad has now made the trip multiple times. “I just take my truck to Elk Grove Village to the location of headquarters; they load me up right there in their loading dock; we get back on the road and bring it back to the people,” he said, standing in the Levy parking lot April 23.
For Mr. Muhammad, who went to school with others in the group, it is a no-brainer. “I love the city, my town. I want to do what I can to help,” he said.
Jerry Succes, an assistant principal at Willard Elementary School, and Max Weinberg, a principal at Lincolnwood Elementary School, were at the Levy lot, coordinating the pickups with the families.
Mr. Succes reported that about 30 to 40 families participated from that school. Food scarcity has become a big concern, he acknowledged. “This is more of a dinner,” he said of the packages. “It will feed anywhere from three to four” people. “It’s frozen, but they can take it, cook it today, tomorrow, put it in their freezer.”
At Willard, Mr. Weinberg estimated, during the pandemic, “we have probably about 25 families that we have pretty consistently been offering support in academics, food, clothing, some in need of shelter.”
“I keep saying to families, ‘This is a time for a culture of community and care, so we’ve taken a whatever-you-need-we’re-here-for-you approach,” he said.
He also noted the greater all around awareness of needs since the pandemic took hold. “I think it’s been a big education piece for our families – our middle-class families understanding there is a need for a sort of gracious giving and receiving right now. There are families that never anticipated they would have that need, and they’re finding they are coming to drive up too,” he said.
At Levy, Linta Carter-Weathers and Alicia Skipworth were also among the volunteers.
“We live here, we grew up here, and so this is our community and we wanted to help,” Ms. Carter-Weathers said. When Ms. Cannon called, seeking some people to help, “we said, sure. I can give little bit of my time so we can assure everybody here is safe and healthy,” Ms. Carter-Weathers recalled.
Ms. Skipworth said she contacted Ms. Cannon after reading about the effort on Facebook.
“And I’m just loving being part of something, giving back to the very community I came up in,” she said. “It’s another bragging right for living in Evanston. I just love my community and these types of events make me love it even more.”
The group has plans to keep effort going, said Ms. Cannon.
“Because we grew up here, this is what we used to do, that’s why we call it ‘Feeding the Village,’ because we wanted to make sure that everyone in the village is taken care of.”
Anyone wishing more information about the group or to volunteer can email email@example.com, Ms. Cannon said. The group can also be found on Facebook.