Six months ago I was introduced to Chef Bill Bracken by the late and wonderful Orange County icon Phyllis Ann Marshall.
From that meeting I was fortunate to be invited onto his Culinary Advisory Board for Bracken’s Kitchen. Since then, I (and others) have been working on various projects designed to increase our span of influence to serve those in need. That includes finding a larger and more functional commercial kitchen, assisting in expanding the food recovery process and designing a culinary training program that will target those individuals who are struggling and just need to be given a chance to succeed.
What is the Problem?
Hunger can affect people from all demographics. There are nearly 400,000 people who struggle with hunger in Orange County and one in five children are at risk of hunger each month. Many of those affected are the working poor who struggle to make ends meet in a county with a very high cost of living – a cost that impacts all facets of life.
What does Bracken’s Kitchen do?
In its simplest form, Chef Bracken’s Kitchen delivers hot and nutritious meals in a fun and dignified manner. The program serves the highest quality and most nutritious meals its recipients will get in the course of a week.
The Kitchen’s “Food Truck Feeding program” is operating in full swing thanks to the efforts of Betsy, the kitchen’s first food truck. There are many organizations providing a variety of food options for the less fortunate, but Chef Bracken feels that his program goes further than the rest.
“We have gone way beyond the typical food pantry box of pasta, rice, beans and tomato sauce,” says Bracken. “On a deeper level we are dishing up hope one plate at a time.”
In doing so they are not only nourishing the body but the soul as well. Chef Bracken has been known to take a break from his prep to play with the kids and engage on a personal level. He has definitely earned his nickname of “Uncle Bill.” When you ask why, he’ll say, “Because feeding people is not the same as nourishing them.”
Dignity, respect, and pride are three areas that the program is intent on preserving for those served. The lives of the underserved in our community are challenging enough without adding constant hunger to the mix.
Chef Bracken’s team feels that providing services to this population should and can be done in a dignified manner. Utilizing the power and popularity of the food truck, the Kitchen provides meals in a manner that echoes a fun, upbeat environment: tables and chairs, music and a robust and varied menu from a clean and attractive truck – all elements that are used to deliver meals with dignity. Offering a hand up and not a handout is one of the bigger goals.
Food is the first and most basic of human needs for survival and as a result, it is a very powerful force in a person’s life. Chef Bracken’s team has learned that serving a high quality and tasty meal gives their customers hope for a brighter tomorrow and better future. The children look forward to meals with anticipation on the day each week that the big red truck pulls up to serve them.
Bracken has leveraged his relationships in the business to build a model that can provide a complete well-balanced dinner spending less than $0.35 for the food to prepare it. A typical meal may be roasted pork loin with charred tomatoes and bell peppers, brown rice pilaf, sautéed seasonal vegetables, southwestern Caesar Salad and fresh fruit.
In order to have the greatest impact with the least effort on their part, Chef Bracken’s Kitchen partnered with select nonprofit organizations including the Salvation Army, Working Wardrobes and Miracles for Kids to establish regular feeding events.
Through these collaborative efforts, the Kitchen can directly reach those people most in need of a healthy meal. This has also eliminated the steps that the Kitchen might otherwise need to take to qualify a person’s need.
Recovered Food Program
The core of the recovered food program is to rescue leftover and unused cuisine and turn it into healthy and nutritious meals for those who need it most. In doing so, we will not only be able to provide the necessary food supplies for our trucks at a much lower cost than our current program, but we will also become an important source for freshly prepared hot and healthy meals made available to other hunger relief agencies and housing shelters that are unable to provide their own high-quality food.
LA Specialty Produce has been at the forefront of this movement. Its mission is to provide meals to the less fortunate by redistributing the excess prepared food that would normally go to waste in hotels, restaurants and many other foodservice operations.
Culinary Training Program
Essential to our rescued food program is our culinary training program. Through training, we will provide at-risk individuals the opportunity to develop the introductory skill needed for a regular full-time job in a food service
The training program will entail learning the skills needed to prepare, cook and serve actual meals with menus that fluctuate around our rescued food inventory.
The success of the Food Truck program has laid the groundwork for even more socially responsible programs which includes creating a line of retail products whose revenue will provide the much-needed income to support our other programs. Ultimately, we are building the framework to create a long-term, self-sustaining program that provides a hand and not just a handout.
To learn more about how you can help the cause, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org