BALTIMORE -- When Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan halted all restaurant dine-in meals last month to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, Monica Alvarado wanted to help neighbors and colleagues whose lives had been upended.
Alvarado, owner of Annapolis' Bread and Butter Kitchen, considers philanthropy an integral part of food service.
Instead of organizing food drives with non-perishable products bought in bulk from big-box stores or grocers with diminished supplies, she devised a plan with pastor and community organizer Ryan Sirmons to feed the hungry while keeping restaurants open and workers earning paychecks. They call it Feed Anne Arundel.
"It's a lifeline," Alvarado said by phone recently as she prepared an afternoon snack of bacon for her children. "For a lot of (restaurants), they wouldn't be able to keep their doors open if they didn't have this program."
Feed Anne Arundel collects money to pay restaurants to cook items from their menus, such as steak and mushroom chili, scallops and lemon risotto and grilled salmon with potatoes and asparagus. Volunteers deliver the food to drop-off sites.
So far, meals have been delivered across the county: Kingdom Celebration Church in Odenton; the Bay Ridge Garden Apartments in Annapolis; and Friendship Community Baptist Church.
Alvarado hopes to donate as many as 10,000 packaged dishes per week, depending on how much money she can raise. Every $1,000 raised pays for 100 meals and puts 10 people back to work, she said. Still, the money only goes so far.
"There's just not enough food for the demand, and the demand is increasing every day," she said. "It's going to come down to funding for us."
Alvarado has raised about $70,000, with more than $35,000 coming from GoFundMe. A Facebook Live concert and raffle raised $6,000. She seeks state and county dollars to supplement those donations.
About 30 restaurants have signed on to the initiative, and one owner said it's prevented some layoffs.
"I'm able to bring my kitchen guys in more frequently because I'm making that money," said Erin Dryden, owner of Luna Blu, an Italian restaurant in Annapolis. "Sales have dropped so drastically. This is keeping me going."
Light House Bistro in Annapolis has taken over managing food deliveries, letting Alvarado focus on fundraising and organizing. The Anne Arundel County Partnership for Children, Youth and Families has helped identify distribution sites. And the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation has taken over managing the funds.
"They stepped right up. It was a huge win for us," she said. "Having someone with that level of experience to manage that -- we're very lucky."
The county's outpouring of support for Feed Anne Arundel has humbled her, Alvarado said.
"People are good, they really are," she said. "It's a relief to see people smiling again."
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