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San Diego restaurants, now closed, give unused ingredients to group making meals for elderly

Brittany Meiling, The San Diego Union-Tribune on

Published in Variety Menu

SAN DIEGO -- As restaurants around San Diego County shut down during the pandemic, many of their kitchens are still loaded with fresh food -- clocks ticking toward their expiration dates.

Nonprofit chefs at a community kitchen in Oceanside are stepping in to scoop up thousands of pounds of fresh ingredients before they go to waste. They're gathering things like eggs, dairy and produce -- and even fully-baked cookies, cakes and doughnuts -- and using them to cook up meals for those in need during the COVID-19 crisis.

The group, called O'side Kitchen Collaborative, is best known for rescuing extra, unsellable farm produce from being sent to landfills.

"We normally package and send produce to organizations like Operation Hope, which shelters single mothers and their families," said Heather Sorgine, vice president of operations at O'side.

But after the COVID-19 pandemic swept through California, O'side saw a fresh need for its massive community kitchen.

As of Monday, an estimated 60% of restaurants in San Diego County have chosen to shutter during the coronavirus spread instead of shifting to take-out and deliveries.

"Here we are with this state-of-the-art kitchen, and we knew that a lot of restaurants are being shut down," Sorgine said. "Even if they're moving to take-out or delivery, they would still have significant loss."

The city of Oceanside spent $1.7 million last year to build out this community kitchen, then selected O'side Kitchen Collaborative to run it. Now, the city is considering further funding for O'side during the COVID-19 epidemic, although financial details are not finalized. The money would be used to pay local restaurants for their excess goods, hire recently unemployed restaurant workers to staff the kitchen, and purchase materials to package the meals. For now, the city is still ironing out the specifics, so O'side isn't yet funded.

In the meantime, the organization has received nearly 5,000 pounds of donated food from local restaurants, including Oceanside's Senor Grubby's, Panca Peruvian Cuisine and Prager Brothers Artisan Breads.

"Prager Brothers have been donating hundreds and hundreds of pounds of beautiful bread," Sorgine said.

The Crimson Cake donated 40 pounds of cakes and cookies, and The Goods in Carlsbad is providing O'side's staffers with doughnuts every single day.

"It's these little things that make a big difference to us," said Mike Perez, head of operations at O'side.

 

And support is flooding in from all over the county. San Diego tech startup, Galley Solutions, has donated its ingredient management software to O'side to help them stretch their donated goods.

"Due to the nature of all this inventory loss and the need for inventory control and tracking, Galley's software is so useful and helpful specifically for what we're doing," Perez said.

With the ingredients, O'side is cooking up full meals for the elderly, the immune-compromised, or low-income folks who struggle to find food during the COVID-19 crisis. Perez said the food is "wedding catering quality," with staffers cooking up things like turkey dinners and Spanish paella.

Until more funding comes through, O'side is staffing the kitchens with mostly volunteers. Chef Felix Alcaide, who formerly ran the corporate kitchens with Perez at Dr. Bronner's, has been working dawn till dusk, his staffers said.

"They come in at 4 a.m. and don't often leave before 6 or even 8 p.m.," Perez said.

Even if the city funding comes through, Sorgine said the kitchen will only be operating at 35% of its total capacity, churning out about 3,500 meals per day. For now, they're shipping about 400 to 600 meals per day. She's hoping corporations or other organizations donate funds to help ramp up production.

Since O'side is just a kitchen -- not a food delivery organization -- they're relying on nonprofits, churches and other willing organizations to pick up the meals and deliver them to those in need.

Interested parties wanting to join the effort can reach O'side's staff at info@theOKC.org.

(c)2020 The San Diego Union-Tribune

Visit The San Diego Union-Tribune at www.sandiegouniontribune.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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