Local restaurant owners fight food insecurity, support small businesses

MADISON, Wis. — A trio local restaurant owners in Madison are fighting food insecurity and supporting fellow small businesses through their Cook It Forward initiative.

The program founded by the owners of Lucille, Morris Ramen and Merchant, serves to get meals made at small local restaurants in the hands of people unable to reach centralized pick up points like food banks while also providing restaurants with the added business.

Cook It Forward Co-founder and Morris Ramen Owner Francesca Hong said what makes this program unique is its focus on equity for both struggling business owners and those who are food insecure particularly in light of the pandemic.

“It was an easy sell for restaurants to be a part of it,” Hong said. “To be paid to create meals for the neighborhood and also help keep their bills paid, to help retain employees, to help make sure they’re able to support our farmers.”

The Cook It Forward model ensures that the cost of a meal, funded both by individual ‘Buy One Give One’ donations and corporate donations, goes directly toward compensating all parties involved including delivery drivers and partner organizations.

The reach of small restaurants in this town is quite large and I don’t know if everyone is always thinking about that,” Hong said.

The program also involves collaborations with local grassroots organizations and neighborhood liaisons to reach people with access barriers related to transportation, health, child care or otherwise.

Since the end of June the group has donated almost 5 thousand meals to people in need. 

Organizers said they currently have enough funds to sustain the program until the end of August but hope to be able to continue their efforts at least through the end of the pandemic.

If you’re looking to donate or find out more about this cause and the participating restaurants you can visit the Cook It Forward website.