Marion Institute and Local Restaurants Team Up to Bring Healthy Meals to At-Risk Populations in Massachusetts

By Colleen Leonardi

Marion Institute and local restaurants partner to feed at-risk communities in Wareham, New Bedford, and Fall River, MA.
Marion Institute and local restaurants partner to feed at-risk communities in Wareham, New Bedford, and Fall River, MA.

Getting good food to those in need is a constant challenge in the local food movement. Enter COVID-19 and those hurdles have multiplied. Yet Marion Institute (MI) in Marion, Massachusetts has established an inroad to communities in need of a meal and restaurants in need of eaters. Established in April, the Cooks for Community emergency food initiative is an outgrowth of MI’s Food Policy Council’s mission to “connect, convene, and advocate for local food producers, consumers, and community partners.”

From the homeless, to senior citizens, health care workers, and immune-compromised cancer patients and their families, Cooks for Community has served over 10,000 meals to the most vulnerable.

“In an effort to support restaurants that are struggling and the communities we serve,” said Elizabeth Wiley, executive director of MI, “we have created a program that supports both during this challenging time.”

Partnering with Southcoast YMCA and Southcoast Health, MI identified those most at-risk in need of sustenance. Emergency funding allowed them to pay local restaurants and food providers to prepare healthy meals. The goal was to feed 100 people five days a week for one month. Now the program, and need, has grown. More emergency funding is coming to continue feeding those at-risk.

The program serves the towns of Wareham, New Bedford, and Fall River. Partnering Restaurants include Marc Anthony, Minkle Boys Catering, Izzy’s Cape Verdean Restaurant, David’s Restaurant, and Java House.

In Wareham, “the meals are distributed through the YMCA with help from the Y staff and volunteers from Community Youth Empowerment,” said Wiley, “a new community organization group on the scene in Wareham led by Jowaun Gamble.”

In New Bedford and Fall River, MI partners with local cancer healthcare centers to provide meals to both immune-compromised cancer patients, their families, and front-line workers at the hospitals.

Chaos can breed compassion, and Cooks for Community is evidence of this potential.

From the restaurant workers cooking the meals, to the support staff and volunteers distributing the meals, to the funders and leaders on the front lines innovating best next steps, the emergency of COVID-19 has united people around food.

MI understands the importance of food as medicine, too, and so the meals produced and served offer a dose of balanced nutrition. Unsheltered families living in encampments are receiving a steady serving Monday through Friday, and the elderly living alone are receiving a warm meal and a friendly face to say “hello” and “be well.”

Environmentalist, entrepreneur, and author Paul Hawken writes, “The Marion Institute provides support and insight to emerging initiatives that make a profound difference in the world. Their work does not show up at the head of the parade, but is often the reason there is a parade at all.”

Communities are benefiting on a daily and weekly basis from MI’s quiet parade. Good food is finding a home and those in need of a home, through a meal or open heart, are finding good food.

Learn more about Marion Institute and donate to their Cooks for Community program.

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