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Chef's Brigade delivers millions of meals, giving lifeline to New Orleans restaurants and residents needing food assistance

The meal program helps keep Charbonnet at home, where health officials say he should be during the pandemic.

NEW ORLEANS — Chef’s Brigade, the emergency food assistance program in New Orleans is about to hit a major milestone: 2 million meals served. 

It started 8 months ago after the Coronavirus pandemic hit the city.

“It’s staggering,” Chef’s Brigade founder and executive director Troy Gilbert said. “It proves that the system that we’ve built and the coalition that we have that is operating and managing this and of the restaurants that are all professional, it shows that the system works.” 

Bill Charbonnet receives two deliveries a week from Chef’s Brigade. 

Each box contains 7 meals. 

“They come in these plastic dishes and there’s a variety, you never know what you’re going to get, kind of like a box of chocolates,” Charbonnet said. “You just pop those in a freezer and when you’re ready to eat put them in a microwave for 3 minutes.” 

The 74-year-old Broadmoor resident has type 2 diabetes. 

The meal program helps keep Charbonnet at home where health officials say he should be during the pandemic.

“This program has been very beneficial for me because it cuts down on going out into crowds or crowded stores to shop,” Charbonnet said. “I’m a big believer in social distancing, staying out of crowded places.” 

The program provides about 8,000 to 12,000 free meals a day in New Orleans. 

It serves not only people with underlying health conditions, but also people impacted both physically and financially by the pandemic. 

“The initial outlay was $18 million and that’s funded 75 percent by FEMA and 25 percent is coming from Orleans Parish, the city government,” Gilbert said. 

The program is also a lifeline for the 85 restaurants now preparing meals. 

Soule’ Café’ in Mid-City is one of them. 

“The great thing about the Chef’s Brigade program is that it’s allowed us to not only stay open throughout this pandemic, but to employ more people than we would have been able to without it,” Soule Café Chef Kina Dache’ Bullock said. 

Chef Bullock says preparing meals for the program accounts for about 40 percent of her business. 

“I think all of the restaurants that are participating are doing the best job to make the best meal we can,” Bullock said.  

Stefani Kemp was laid off from her job as a message therapist. 

She now delivers meals for Chef’s Brigade. 

“I, like so many of us were furloughed or our jobs are deemed unsafe during this time,” Kemp said. “It’s given me a chance to get off of unemployment and get back out there.” 

The meals are organized and stored by the New Orleans Culinary and Hospitality Institute (NOCHI), packaged by Revolution Foods, and delivered by d’Livery NOLA. 

Gilbert says Chef’s Brigade has been an amazing experience. 

“We know it’s been successful,” Gilbert said. “We have restaurants that absolutely would have closed their doors without this.” 

The Chef’s Brigade program was just extended to the end of the month. Organizers say as long as there is food insecurity in the New Orleans community, a program like this will be needed. 

“Chef’s Brigade is going to look at that on the other side of the pandemic,” Gilbert said. 

According to a survey done by the Chefs Brigade of the participating restaurants, the meal program has re-employed at least 500 New Orleanians who may have otherwise been out of work due to the pandemic. 

You may be eligible for meals if you are in any of the following categories and you are not receiving any other federal food support (including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)):  

  • Seniors age 65 and above   
  • Adults with high-risk health conditions and special medical needs (Examples include pregnancy, smoking, asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart or lung disease, obesity, cancer, compromised immune system, kidney disease, liver disease, HIV, AIDS, Sickle cell disease, and more.)   
  • Individuals who test positive for COVID-19 or have been exposed and require isolation or quarantine   
  • Homeless residents   
  • Children under 18   

To apply, go to ready.nola.gov/meals or call 3-1-1.  

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