Chef Q. Ibraheem was working on her first James Beard dinner and planning for the Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre’s Annual Brunch when Governor J.B. Pritzker announced the state’s stay-at-home order. Like so many people across the country and around the world, the nationally renowned chef, famous for her farm-to-table underground dinners, found herself out of work. It did not take long, however, for Chef Q. to find a new purpose: to provide healthy meals to Evanston families affected by the Covid-19 crisis.
A prominent member of the Evanston community, Chef Q. also runs the Foster Street Urban Agriculture Program, which aims to supply fresh food to the community while providing hands-on learning to children and teens. When she realized some of the children she knows through that program had become food insecure due to the crisis, she knew she had to do something.
She spoke to one woman who said she only had eggs, bacon and a few cans of soup in her home. “This woman had six children to feed,” she said. “ I had to help.”
The next day, Chef Q. went to the store, bought some food, cooked some meals and dropped them off for the family. By the end of the week, Chef Q. was feeding eight families. She created a donation page on her social media accounts and secured some funding for the month of April from the Evanston Community Foundation.
“As soon as I got the financial support from the community, I thought, now I can really go for it and I will feed as many families as I can,” she said.
Today she provides meals for 44 Evanston families every week.
Because she lives with her elderly mother, she knew she needed to be safe. She made a few calls and found a commercial kitchen she could use and hired some out-of-work school bus drivers to deliver the meals. She now has two assistants to help prepare the meals and shop for food. She is working with local farms, but currently gets most of her food from Valli Produce.
“The people at Valli and all the grocery store workers are my heroes,” she said. “They are risking their health every day to get food on our tables.”
Recent meals have included beef and broccoli brisket with teriyaki sauce, meatloaf, mashed potatoes with asparagus and chicken enchiladas with salsa verde. Having worked with kids, Chef Q. knows she needs to keep the flavors mild. She also includes kiddie bags with every delivery, filled with snacks like granola bars, string cheese and juice boxes.
Chef Q. says she wants people to know that a lot of people in Evanston need help right now. “These are working people who have lost their jobs under circumstances they had no control over,” she said. “We need to take care of each other right now.”
She has requested more funding from the Evanston Community Foundation and at the time this article was written she was waiting for a response. Her friend, Nina Kavin from Dear Evanston, has also started a Go Fund Me page with the goal of raising $18,000.00.