Compassion Kitchen helps struggling restaurants and hungry families

Compassion Kitchen Project co-founders Isabel Rice (left) and Lisa Blanco carry Easter meals for families in need at The Mission church in Atlanta on Thursday March 25th, 2021. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.
Compassion Kitchen Project co-founders Isabel Rice (left) and Lisa Blanco carry Easter meals for families in need at The Mission church in Atlanta on Thursday March 25th, 2021. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

People were hungry, jobs were being lost, restaurants were struggling to stay open, and two women found a way to help them all.

A year ago, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Lisa Blanco and Isabel Rice, who are both parishioners at Christ the King School where their children attend, were constantly hearing about local crises.

Blanco, who founded CKS Serves, a program at the school to encourage students and families to live out their faith through service, received requests left and right to support restaurant employees and others who were out of work.

“The needs were so great it was overwhelming,” said Blanco. “Nonprofits that we work with through CKS Serves were struggling to provide for their communities. Nicholas House, for example, a homeless and transition center, was struggling because they rely on volunteers to come in and cook dinner for guests. Now they couldn’t have volunteers and they needed to provide lunch for residents who were usually gone during the day, but now had nowhere to go because of COVID.”

Blanco knew of many people who wanted to help but had no idea where to focus. “I wanted to simplify the process and magnify our impact,” said Blanco. “That’s when I reached out to Isabel Rice.”

Rice’s husband Gene is in commercial real estate and many of his clients are restaurants and brewers. Together, Blanco and the Rices created the Compassion Kitchen Project. The program uses donations to pay restaurants to make meals for nonprofits and for those suffering from food insecurity, providing both income for restaurant employees and support for others in crisis.

“We’ve had an overwhelming amount of support from restaurant partners,” said Isabel Rice. “We were hoping we could operate for a month and here we are a year later. Now some of the restaurants are even matching our donations.”

Volunteers with the Compassion Kitchen Project hand out Easter meals to families in need at The Mission church in Atlanta on Thursday March 25th, 2021. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.
Volunteers with the Compassion Kitchen Project hand out Easter meals to families in need at The Mission church in Atlanta on Thursday March 25th, 2021. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

There have been 98,223 healthy meals delivered over the past year and over 2,500 Compassion to-go bags made, which include non-perishable food items and water, delivered to people living on the streets, in cars and in transient housing. Restaurant partners include Gallas, Local Three Kitchen & Bar, The Big Ketch and Bold Monk Brewing Company.

“I grew up less fortunate, so feeding the community is a huge passion of mine,” said Tony DeBose, executive chef at Bold Monk Brewing. “It’s humbling to help these families. I don’t just throw food on a plate. If I’m making macaroni and cheese, I want it to be the best they’ve ever eaten. I want the meals to be yummy and nutritious. I don’t get to meet the people, but when I cook, I love to imagine their faces when they eat the food I make for them.”

Some meals are delivered, and some are distributed at venues, like Cathedral of Christ the King Mission, which serves the Hispanic community. People arrive there, many on foot, twice a week to receive family meals. The homeless are fed at Sacred Heart Basilica and Mercy Community Church, and nonprofit PAWKids receives weekly meals for the homeless and underserved community on the west side of Atlanta.

“When Lisa and Isabel called me, I thought it was too good to be true,” said La Tonya Gates, founder and director of PAWKids. “I’m a black woman in Grove Park, partnering with two women from Buckhead – we’re breaking a lot of boundaries here and that’s what it takes. They have gone over and beyond for all of us. The poor people in the west side of Atlanta aren’t used to eating at fancy Buckhead restaurants like The Big Ketch. We gave a meal to one woman and she asked if we were punking her. The majority of people in our community suffer from vitamin and iron deficiencies because we don’t have healthy foods around us. We have 20 hot wing stands, but no fresh produce close by. The people we serve are so grateful for every hot, nutritious meal they receive.”

Pedro Barahona (from left) gets Easter meals from Compassion Kitchen Project co-founders Isabel Rice and Lisa Blanco at The Mission church in Atlanta on Thursday March 25th, 2021. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.
Pedro Barahona (from left) gets Easter meals from Compassion Kitchen Project co-founders Isabel Rice and Lisa Blanco at The Mission church in Atlanta on Thursday March 25th, 2021. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

When school started back in the Fall, Blanco and Rice recognized another way to provide meals to people in need.

“We partner with private schools, like Marist School, St. Pius, and The Lovett School, to receive their leftover, individually wrapped lunches,” said Blanco. “We use our volunteer base to pick up the meals each day. Due to quarantining and virtual learning, it can be hard for schools to predict how much to make, so this effort helps avoid waste and serves many nonprofits.”

There are more than 150 Compassion Kitchen Project volunteers and food is delivered six days a week. Volunteers, which include students, retirees, groups of neighbors, sign up on a weekly basis and there has yet to be a lack of help.

“I’ve volunteered for them for a year now,” said Lara Hill. “I pick up meals at restaurants and deliver to various nonprofits, sometimes I take a large route on Saturdays to the Clarkston area where there’s a refugee community. I absolutely adore the idea behind this effort. It’s a great feeling to be part of a community. When you hand over meals and look at the kids’ and adults’ faces, it makes you feel like you’re doing the right thing. We’re all in this together and we all need to help each other. People like Isabel and Lisa should be fully commended. They’ve created a brilliant, yet easy process, and they’ve given those of us who want to help an amazing opportunity to serve.”

MORE DETAILS

If you would like to get involved with Compassion Kitchen Project, visit: cathedralctk.com/compassion-kitchen/

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