FEED Kitchens, a prep kitchen and food hub on Madison’s north side, is home to a variety of food carts making Costa Rican food, tuna sandwiches, braised meats, Indian favorites, tacos and soul food.
Those carts caught the eye of Michael Johnson, president and CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County, when he toured the facility on Tuesday morning. Within 24 hours, he had hatched a plan to marshal some mobile resources to bring dinners to hungry people around the city.
“I saw all those food trucks out there and said, 'Is there any way we can put some people to work, raise money and feed kids dinner?'” Johnson said.
A new initiative called FEED to Go will bring 40 free dinners made by the El Wiscorican food cart to the Boys & Girls Club on Taft Street on Thursday. The intention is to prepare 80 meals for Friday and ramp up next week, with many more locations and up to six food cart chefs a day.
Boys & Girls Club of Dane County, Selfless Ambition, Madison365, the United Way of Dane County and other partners launched a collaborative fundraising campaign to support short-term emergency needs and future recovery efforts. (See related story by Abby Becker.) It's currently at close to $1 million.
“As the fund grew, I wanted to get feedback,” Johnson said. “The city and school district have worked with us and others to make sure kids are being fed during the lunchtime period. But we started hearing about kids who are struggling or people living in marginalized situations. They may not have the discretionary money to purchase hot meals for their kids.”
Johnson worked with FEED operations coordinator Chris Brockel and Northside Planning Council executive director Abha Thakkar to launch FEED to Go. Brockel clarified that the carts themselves won’t be going to various locations — that’s unnecessary, because the meals will be already packaged, and having people gather at a small food cart goes against recent CDC advice with the outbreak of COVID-19.
“That could potentially create chaos, and there are safety issues for food cart operators,” Brockel said.
But the program as it is currently structured looks like a “win-win” to Brockel. In addition to prepared meals available for pick-up, there will be delivery in targeted neighborhoods. Johnson wants to get volunteer help for that.
“We’re getting food for the community while also helping to keep some of these food entrepreneurs in business, making a few dollars,” Brockel said. “The community will identify families that are really shut in and need extra help.”
Brockel hopes to steadily increase the capacity of FEED to Go, working with entrepreneurs like Carmell Jackson of Melly Mel’s Deli & Catering (she specializes in Southern soul food). FEED to Go wants to spread out the work among vendors, to give many people an opportunity to participate, and gradually ramp up to some 480 meals a day.
“We’ll keep ramping it up as money is available,” Brockel said.
Potential future sites could be the Boys & Girls Club in Sun Prairie and the Kennedy Heights Community Center. Others are in the works.
At the city, Madison's food policy coordinator George Reistad said he doesn’t have any guarantees of funding or resources yet to offer, but he’s trying to serve as a connector and support initiatives like FEED to Go in whatever ways he can.
“It’s a very interesting idea,” Reistad said. “I think it sounds awesome. In addition to serving hungry people it offers employment opportunities to food cart providers. I want to stay a part of this conversation so I know what they need.”
To donate to the fund that powers FEED to Go, visit the website for Boys & Girls Club of Dane County. When you donate, designate "FEED to Go" in the comment section.