Social distancing may have most of us locked away at home, but the generosity of many of Winnipeg’s businesses is on display in full force, especially when it comes to food.
Many of the city’s restaurants have shut down to help slow the spread of COVID-19, leaving them with fully-stocked refrigerators and many foods that will spoil during the shutdown.
"There’s only so much food that you can freeze and save for an uncertain amount of time," says catering chef Ben Kramer. "I wanted to make sure that food didn’t go to waste."
On Monday, Kramer put a call out on Instagram for donations of perishable foods from restaurants that are reducing their hours or closing in response to the pandemic.
"There’s only so much food that you can freeze and save for an uncertain amount of time. I wanted to make sure that food didn’t go to waste." — Chef Ben Kramer
Since then, he has received donations of dairy from coffee shops, raw products that don’t store well like lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, as well as some prepared products, such as potatoes that have been peeled and cut and are ready to be turned into hashbrowns.
"Main Street Projects has a food bank, so anything that’s kind of retail-friendly we’re going to just give them straight up — small milk, whole fruit, things like that," he says. "And then anything that is left over we’re going to process and turn into soups and stews and salads. Stuff they can serve right away or freeze to build up their stock."
Kramer will be doing all the food preparation at KitchenSync on Donald Street — the space, which is often home to pop-up events, was donated for free by the owner.
"Food for everybody is a priority, especially in a time of crisis when we’re trying to stay healthy and calm, but it’s particularly important for people who are in a vulnerable position," the chef says.
"When those food stores dry up, they’re going to be the first people to suffer."
The response to Kramer’s initial Instagram post far surpassed his expectations.
"It’s been overwhelming, to be honest," he says. "The generosity of people in the hospitality industry is pretty beautiful to see in a time of crisis."
While many restaurants have donated food to Kramer, others are taking the initiative themselves.
“It’s been overwhelming, to be honest. The generosity of people in the hospitality industry is pretty beautiful to see in a time of crisis.”
"It’s a difficult time for many restaurants and for Winnipeggers and we’re just trying to do our part," says Benjamin Nasberg, president and CEO of Carbone Pizza, which has shut down operation owing to the pandemic. "All our fridges were full, so we figured we should provide the food to people in need."
"Our whole team spent all day yesterday and today getting the food out," Nasberg says. They sent food provisions to Siloam Mission, Lighthouse Mission and to health-care workers at seniors’ homes.
"We’re just waiting it out," says Nasberg, who adds that the intention is for Carbone’s to re-open in the future for limited-contact pick-up and delivery orders.
"Supporting the community is always something we do, so this was kind of a no-brainer for us."
Pad Thai, a family business that has been operating in St. James for 19 years, is also helping out health-care workers.
Owner Claire Venevongsa is the parent of a child with serious allergies and has spent a lot of time at the Health Sciences Centre. She wanted to do her part to take care of the workers who have often taken care of her son.
"I appreciate all the health professionals who helped me during past times," she says. "I want to show them our appreciation and give back to the community. Those nurses and doctors are also parents. They also have to support their families but they are on the front lines."
Even her son is getting in on the generosity — he has donated food from the restaurant to his favourite local fire station.
"I read on the Winnipeg Free Press website that hospitals were already locked down," says Venevongsa. "I knew that meant health professionals will have a hard time to get food. My business partner and I decided to make lunch boxes and drop them off to those hospital locations."
Locations where Pad Thai donated included Grace Hospital emergency, Children’s Hospital allergy clinic, Children’s Hospital emergency, Fire Station 11 and the Manitoba Teachers' Association.
"We are thankful for those teachers still helping all the children to figure out everything during this difficult time," she says. "Winnipeg is a beautiful and warm city. I love it here. Together, we will help each other get through this difficult time."
As of now, Pad Thai is still open for takeout and delivery.
— With files from Eva Wasney