Some of Boise’s most popular restaurants have partnered with local community sponsors to create City of Good, an initiative that has created a way to help people experiencing food insecurity and put people back to work.
“Partnering this way we can support as many people as possible,” said Boise Co-op Director of Marketing and Merchandising Mo Valko. “We don’t want this program to end with the pandemic. We’re creating a communal safety net. It’s not a band-aid, it’s a long-term solution.”
The City of Good initiative launched on April 10. It prepares and delivers free meals to anyone, setting out to achieve three main goals: feeding the community, putting people back to work and building a resilient local economy by helping to sustain local farms.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, many people in Idaho were experiencing hunger. According to the Idaho Foodbank, it affected 210,420 people in 2017. With more people losing their jobs and using up their savings due to a statewide stay home order, more people will experience food insecurity, according to a report from Feeding America.
There are a lot of businesses on board, from a slew of local upscale restaurants to the Boise Co-op. Local restaurateur Dave Krick, owner of Bittercreek and Red Feather Lounge, came up with the idea. The nature of the collaboration organically convened many heavy-hitting players, and businesses kept jumping in. Their goal is to reach as many people as possible, but they also want to create a sustainable program, and be able to pay kitchen workers a living wage of $15 an hour.
“When we got together and set the cost structure we had to make sure to build a model that could carry into the future,” said Valko. “So we wanted to do more than just feed people: We wanted to create a system that’s sustainable, and we are so humbled by how the community is coming around to this.”
At the City of Good and the restaurants’ websites, people can request meals if they’re in need or donate to help someone in need. Currently, the website only accepts donations, as the organization is still structuring the menu options. Valko said that so many people were contacting them about how to help that their main priority was getting the donations in order.
City of Good donation pricing is one meal for $10 or a $100 kit that contains meals for two people designed to last several days. The latter option also provides fresh foods with recipes and “warm and serve” options.
Valko acknowledged it’s a bit of a higher price point but said it was a necessity. The price point allows the businesses to pay the workers a living wage and also figures into paying local farms and delivery drivers a sustainable amount.
That idea is what brought The North End Neighborhood Association into sponsorship. Gary Roeder, who sits on the board of directors, said as a neighborhood association, NENA is fortunate to be able to raise substantial funds from The Hyde Park Street Fair. The association takes the reserves and saves them in order to aid the community in a time of crisis.
“The reason the NENA decided to support the organization is that we recognized there’s a need in our community right now,” said Roeder. “Because of the crisis created by the COVID-19 virus we see people that are needing meal support and people that need financial help because they lost their job.”
KIN Co-owner Kris Komori said he was on board from the beginning even though the restaurant is currently only open for deliveries: “We got occupancy of our space the day after the city shut down—you just can’t not laugh,” he said. However, early on he and his crew were watching the pandemic unfold and they were in a panic themselves. He knew that a lot of people were going to lose their jobs and a lot of people were going to need food and said he’s excited about how many restaurants have come on board.
“More restaurants mean more collaboration and a larger diversity of food,” said Komori. “The more restaurants that get involved will make the organization more efficient and offer more variety.”
The initiative is still ironing out the kinks in the menu, but plans to offer different meal options that cater to a range of dietary needs. For instance, all of the restaurants will create a different menu so people will be able to get on the website and order a meal from a certain restaurant.
“As chefs, how we comfort people is through food,” said Komori. “It won’t be enough, but it’s going to help. “I want to emphasize, it started small but it’s a huge project and no one is more important than the other, it’s people banding together to help our community.”