NEW ORLEANS — New Orleans is a city known worldwide for its hospitality. When a stay-at-home order was promulgated by Mayor LaToya Cantrell, vital for fighting the novel coronavirus, it immediately resulted in mass layoffs for the local service industry and gig economy workers. CrescentCity.com’s new and ongoing meal assistance program is helping these people as well as members of the LGBTQ community in this legendary city.
After seeing the effect of the mayor’s order and the resulting need for food security, Sarah Manowitz and Reed Wendorf teamed up to lend a hand. Manowitz, who is the general manager of Oz New Orleans an LGBTQ dance club on famed Bourbon Street, has significant experience working in New Orleans’ hospitality industry; she’s currently studying to receive her law degree at Tulane University’s School of Professional Advancement. After graduating from Tulane University, Wendorf worked in banking operations and founded a marketing agency prior to stepping into his current position as a business consultant and Editor-in-Chief of Ambush Magazine.
The meal assistance program began when the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Engagement (ONE) reached out to Manowitz who had completed a community leader survey at the end of March indicating that food scarcity was a concern for these communities. The ONE was looking to connect Gate Group, a manufacturer of hot, cold and ambient shelf-stable foods for the airline industry, with community groups providing meals for those impacted by COVID-19-related food security issues.
“At the time, we had no idea how we would distribute the meals, but we knew there was a significant need and we’d figure it out,” said Wendorf.
Ambush’s owner TJ Acosta had recently opened Betty’s Bar & Bistro located at 700 Burgundy Street in the French Quarter and, despite being on the mend from battling COVID-19 himself, was quick to volunteer the space. With the bar shut down, it was the perfect location for many in the community without transportation to be able to reach on foot.
With food and a distribution point from which to operate, Wendorf set out redesigning CrescentCity.com to provide COVID-19 resources, to survey community members in need, and to establish its online communication and operations, while Manowitz focused on diversifying food sources, networking with organizations doing similar work, and recruiting volunteers.
“For our first order, we had less than twelve hours to survey who in the community needed assistance,” says Manowitz. “We were shocked that with only a few social media posts, over 120 people indicated they needed help.”
In addition to offering in-person pickup, they also recruited out-of-work service industry workers to deliver to those who are homebound due to being in a high-risk category, suffering from COVID-19, or not having transportation.
Since the program’s first meal distribution on Saturday, April 4, it has grown to 743 active recipients by Thursday, April 16, which was its sixth distribution day. 275 recipients received their meals delivered to their homes today. The program currently distributes meals on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. It’s currently in its second week and projects distributing over 20,000 meals this week.
Over the last couple of days, roughly 35 participants have indicated that they are no longer in need of assistance. Several cited finally being approved for unemployment benefits and receiving federal stimulus money.
Meal bags have included a wide range of items, including apples, onions, Louisiana strawberries, sandwiches, cans of Blue Runner beans, premade lasagna from World Central Kitchen, premade chicken & vegetable meals from Auction House Market, Tava, and HappyJaxx, pasta, bagels, apple sauce, trail mix, peanut butter, chips, small packaged cakes as well as dry goods like rice, beans, flour and sugar that were purchased in bulk and portioned out.
“We couldn’t have done this without our volunteers, who are themselves primarily out of work service industry workers,” says Manowitz. “We’ve been extremely grateful for our partnerships with City Councilmembers Jason Rogers Williams and Kristin Gisleson Palmer. On our first day, Palmer and her staff brought food donations and helped us set up. And on our third day, Williams and two of his staff helped make deliveries. Their advice and assistance since have been invaluable.”
How much money has this all cost? They’ve spent less than $2,000, which was graciously provided by friends, family and community members looking to help. Instead of raising funds ourselves, “we partnered with organizations looking to provide resources, but who did not have the means to distribute them to those in need,” explains Wendorf. “And for those looking to make financial donations, we’ve been working to connect them directly with restaurants and organizations that need funding to produce nutritious meals that we can then help distribute.”
Organizations and businesses that have provided food donations to CrescentCity.com’s meal assistance program so far include Auction House Market, The Barman’s Fund, New Orleans USBG, Seven Three Distilling Co., Big Easy Fresh Market, Big Easy Petshop and Rescue, Blue Runner Beans, Gate Group, New Orleans Original Daiquiri, Nola Tree Project, SBP, and World Central Kitchen. If you’re able to provide food or monetary donations, you can contact them at email@example.com.Additional resources are being added to the website CrescentCity.com daily, including lists of resources, open businesses, and a virtual tipping portal called Tip Random where one can tip a random New Orleans service industry worker.