Feed Albany, which launched in the immediate aftermath of the governor’s March 16 order that all non-essential businesses close to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), was initially intended to help hospitality industry employees who were suddenly out of work.
“Our immediate concern was that a lot of people working at restaurants had one or even two meals at work,” said Feed Albany President Dominick Purnomo, owner of D.P.'s Brasserie in Albany. “All of a sudden. No job, no tips, and no family meal.”
“Family meal,” for those who have never worked in a bar or restaurant, refers to the private meal staff members share behind closed doors before the start of “service” – when it’s time to feed the customers.
It exemplifies the closeness of those who work in the industry and explains the drive Purnomo and others involved in the Feed Albany initiative feel to try to support their former colleagues, employees and the community at large who are suffering as a result of the pandemic.
It quickly became clear that local residents from all walks of life and in a wide variety of industries were abruptly out of work and in need of assistance. What started as a small and ad hoc effort has grown into a highly organized operation, with thousands of meals produced, packaged and (in some cases) delivered every week by about 100 volunteers.
The effort is supported by a network of contributions of both food and funds from individuals, nonprofits, businesses and government organizations – including $10,000 from the United Way of the Greater Capital Region and a $5,000 Amplify Albany program grant. Capitalize Albany Corporation administers the Amplify Albany grant program, made possible by the City of Albany Capital Resource Corporation. The program focuses on keeping local commercial districts active and vibrant by supporting the creation and execution of buzzworthy projects, Feed Albany is keeping multiple commercial kitchens active during the COVID-19 crisis.
The cooking is being done on a rotating basis at five restaurants: The Savoy Taproom, Kitchen 216 The Point,Yono’s/dp An American Brasserie and Roux in Slingerlands.Much of the food that is being prepared has been donated, including by local purveyors like Sysco, Driscoll, Pepsico and Kilcoyne Farms.
There have also been donations of toilet paper, bottled water, Nine Pin cider, paper towels and even pet food. For Easter, there were donated baskets given by a Feed Albany board member as well as 10 cases of candy contributed by CVS and the United Way.
As the pandemic lingered on, Feed Albany filed the necessary paperwork to become an official nonprofit itself – an effort Purnomo said was done out of a realization that this would likely be a long-term undertaking than initially thought.
“We decided there’s going to be a need long after this is over,” Purnomo explained. “Even in another six weeks or so, when life gets back to normal – or as normal as it’s going to be for a while – there’s going to be a need for it. Being a 501c3 makes us more attractive to donors and allows us to access grants going forward.”
Feed Albany is now regularly providing nutritious, healthy and filling pre-packaged meals to some 650 families, Purnomo said. The food is fresh whenever possible, with a focus on vegetables and protein.
Some people come and pick up their food, while observing appropriate social distancing regulations. Feed Albany has also worked with a variety of social service organizations, food banks and local government officials to identify people in need.
In addition, they’ve dropped hundreds of meals at health care facilities and nursing homes as a way to say “thank you” to the essential workers on the front lines of battling the virus.
“It’s a really beautiful thing to see everybody coming together,” Purnomo said. “The volunteers are coming in for nothing more than a meal themselves and then the gratitude of the people who come to pick up food.The world is upside down, but I can still come into the business I’ve owned 10, 14 years now. It gives me a sense of normalcy and accomplishment and helps with the stress and anxiety of the whole situation.”