Food Heroes Support Local Communities Through the Pandemic

Ross Katz, owner of Rooster’s Kitchen in Indianapolis, IN. Chef Katz, along with Jennifer Rubenstein, McFarling Foods, and Torrie Hudson donated their products and time to serve over 200 meals of Niman Ranch pork chili and cornbread to guests at the No Questions Asked Food Pantry.

The “support local” mantra is certainly not one of obscurity, especially these days when so many communities have suffered such devastating losses since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic—the local food community being one of the most severely impacted.

That is where partnerships come in and where companies who can take quick action and whose hearts are in the right place can make a difference in ways that directly, and significantly, impact lives.

Over the past several months, Edible Communities—the network of 80 independently owned and operated regional food magazines—has partnered with Niman Ranch on the “Impacting Lives Beyond the Plate” initiative.

The goal of Beyond the Plate is to feature and highlight stories from around the country that focus on various local food heroes who are going above and beyond their normal roles to help feed the hungry, frontline workers, and out of work restaurant workers.

From the more than 300 stories that were nominated, five regional winners were selected to receive Certified Humane® Niman Ranch meat donations, which provided critical support for their ongoing relief projects.

“It is so heartening to see the heroic and vital efforts being performed by each of these individuals to help those in need during this very difficult time. Each of these winners has taken it upon themselves to do whatever it takes to help their communities survive some very dire situations and we could not be more proud of them, or of our local publishers who tell these stories in such powerful and important ways, said Tracey Ryder, Co-Founder, Edible Communities.

Because of the support from Niman Ranch hundreds of meals have been served through this program.

“Despite the many challenges 2020 presented, particularly for those working in the hard-hit food industry, these Food Heroes stepped up to help their neighbors,” shared Chris Oliviero, Niman Ranch General Manager. “Their local relief efforts should inspire us all to ask how we can do more to support those in need.”

Please join us in celebrating the efforts of each of these heroes by reading their stories here:

Allison DeHonney, Urban Fruits and Veggies & Buffalo Go Green, Buffalo, NY
As the President of Urban Fruits and Veggies (UFV) and founder of the non-profit Buffalo Go Green in Buffalo, NY, when the COVID-19 pandemic began in Spring 2020, Allison DeHonney quickly mobilized efforts to deliver free boxes of fresh produce to families in need throughout the city. Known for her commitment to urban farming, wellness and justice in diverse communities, Allison maintains an urban farm and mobile produce market that delivers healthy, nutritious food and education programs to underserved populations living in food deserts throughout the region.

Read more about the importance of Allison’s community efforts.

Chef Ross Katz, Roosters Kitchen, Indianapolis, IN
Chef Ross Katz grew up knowing he wanted to be in the restaurant business. He opened Rooster’s Kitchen in October 2016 and during the early days of this year’s pandemic, Katz like many small businesses, pivoted quickly due to circumstance, retooling his kitchen—not only to keep his customers supplied with take-out options and grocery goods, but also to expand his Feed it Forward program to aggressively support vulnerable populations. Using both monetary and product donations from businesses and individuals, Katz continues to focus on partnerships with local non-profits that address ongoing food insecurity. He has also provided thousands of meals to frontline workers.

Read more about Chef Ross Katz’s Feed it Forward program here. And about how Chef Katz put his Niman Ranch meat donation to use.

“We nominated Chef Katz because of his big heart and his ability to pivot during this unimaginable time. A time when restaurants are struggling to keep their doors open and a time when more people need people to give them grace. Chef Katz never ceases to amaze me with the time, energy and money he donates to our outstanding community. He is more than deserving of this award ” says Jennifer Rubenstein, owner of Edible Indy.

Chef Hugo Ortega, Backstreet Cafe, Hugo’s, Caracol, Xochi, Houston, Texas
Hugo Ortega is executive chef/co-owner of four of Houston’s top restaurants and the winner of Best Chef: Southwest at the prestigious 2017 James Beard Foundation Awards. At the start of pandemic restrictions earlier this year, Chef Ortega and his kitchen team partnered quickly with sponsors to ensure that meals were prepared and delivered routinely to frontline workers at local hospitals and first responders in Houston. Since then, he has continued to focus on feeding additional frontline workers and providing meals to unemployed restaurant-industry workers in the community.

Read more about Chef Hugo Ortega’s involvement in his community.

Chef Joe Phillips, Pints & Union Restaurant, New Albany, IN
Chef Joe Phillips, owner of Pints and Union, has been heralded by peers as one of the most philanthropic forces in the Kentuckiana community since the start of Covid-19. Early on in the pandemic, Phillips and his team made sweeping efforts to shift their business model and sought resourceful partnerships to help support the community with relief efforts. Through a LEE Initiative Grant, they collected groceries to give to food industry workers who lost their jobs and made grocery and meal deliveries to vulnerable populations. He has also led his own fundraising efforts by selling masks, flags, t-shirts and other goods, to support those in need.

Read more about Chef Joe Phillips efforts.

Chef Ryan Rizzuto, Kitchens for Good, San Diego, CA
Kitchens for Good in San Diego believes that all food has power and that all people have potential. They empower individuals with culinary and hospitality training, along with the life skills needed to launch meaningful careers. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Chef Ryan and his team at Kitchens for Good have prepared well over 100,000 nourishing meals for families and individuals in their community who are struggling to keep food on the table. They continue to offer these services as the pandemic wears on, earning their well-deserved designation as a food hero in their community.

Read more about the work of Kitchens for Good.

Read more Beyond the Plate local food hero storiesLearn more about our partners, Niman Ranch at