Amid the pandemic, at least two things have been abundantly clear: Restaurants are struggling, and people are going hungry when they may not have before COVID-19. A new initiative from a born-and-raised St. Louisan aims to ease both of those problems.
Community Carry Out is raising money to provide grants to restaurants in order for them to cook meals for organizations that support people dealing with food insecurity. The fund was started by Liz Kniep Engelsmann, who works full-time as the co-owner of local wine and spirits distributor Pinnacle Imports. As a distributor, she naturally works with a lot of restaurants, and she saw first-hand how much the industry is struggling.
"Not only are they my clients, but they're also friends, they're people I've grown up with in the industry," she says. "Our company has grown with a lot of these restaurants over the last 20 years and, I don't know, I feel the need to contribute in some way outside of my regular business practices."
And while Engelsmann says that Pinnacle Imports has tried to be as supportive of restaurants as possible and help them to pivot when they can, she wanted to do more. The idea for Community Carry Out came to her around Thanksgiving – a time of year both people and companies tend to make charitable contributions, but also when people tend to hit the town and spend money with dinner, drinks and more. Companies also typically order catering for holiday parties and gatherings, which are, of course, no longer possible amid the pandemic.
"I just had this idea of, rather than making a holiday contribution to a nonprofit this year, maybe taking those dollars and just buying out a restaurant for a night," she says. "Just paying them X number of dollars so that they had one night of 100 percent revenue. And then I started thinking, well, I could actually pay them to do the work that they are skilled to do, which is create food, and instead of sending it to my house or friends, send it to the people who need it most in the community."
Englesmann realized that she probably wouldn't be the only person interested in donating to a setup like this, so she created Community Carry Out. She partnered with the St. Louis Community Foundation to host the fund and created an advisory board to help lead the way.
Now, the fund is in its money-raising stage; companies or individuals can make 100 percent tax-deductible donations to the fund via PayPal or check. The goal is to distribute $5,000 and $10,000 grants to local restaurants to create meals in groups of 250 and 500, respectively. Independently and locally owned restaurants and caterers will be able to apply for the grants, as long as they submit a meal plan and meet a certain set of prerequisites.
The advisory board will then make recommendations to the St. Louis Community Foundation on who should receive the grants. Half of each grant is intended to cover food costs and delivery, while the other half is meant to cover typical restaurant costs like staffing, rent and other bills. On the other end, the foundation will organize a recipient agency or organization that will be able to get the meals to those who need them.
The goal is to raise $100,000 by the end of December to distribute between 10 and 20 grants. So far, $40,000 has been pledged to the fund. But beyond that, Engelsmann isn't quite sure what will become of Community Carry Out. The fund is intended for temporary relief to help pandemic-affected restaurants muddle through the winter ahead, but she would like if the mission to help feed those in need using restaurants continued.
"I do hope that in the spirit of giving, some of the relationships we establish between restaurants and agencies might continue," she says. "Here's an industry whose skillset is meal preparation, and there is always a need for food in our community."
Community Carry Out, facebook.com/communitycarryoutSTL