Steve Griffin, Deseret News

Nourish to Flourish program links people in need with restaurants who need business

By Daedan Olander, KSL | Updated - Sep. 2, 2020 at 9:20 p.m. | Posted - Sep. 2, 2020 at 9:05 p.m.



SALT LAKE CITY — The Nourish to Flourish Initiative has a lofty goal: eliminate food insecurity in the Salt Lake community.

That goal inched a little closer to becoming reality Wednesday, as Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson announced that $450,000 in CARES Act funding would be given to the initiative.

Started several months ago at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Nourish to Flourish is a partnership between restaurants, service organizations and community funders to provide meals to those in need.

It’s not only the residents who are benefitting from the initiative but also the restaurants from which the food is purchased. The restaurant industry was hit particularly hard by the pandemic, and selling thousands of extras meals each week gives local eateries quite a boost.

Calling the initiative a “win-win” at a news conference, Wilson said it is heartwarming to see thousands of people being helped.

So far, Nourish to Flourish has served 19,153 meals and contributed $143,648 to local restaurants.

The initiative works in three steps, which are outlined on its website. First, food is prepared each week by selected local restaurants and sold to the initiative at a discounted price. Then the food is distributed by service providers to those who need it. Finally, people and organizations donate to the Lightspark Foundation to fund the initiative and pay for the food.

Jackie Rodabaugh, community relations coordinator for the Spice Kitchen Incubator, bags meals prepared by Namash Swahili Cuisine at the Spice Kitchen Incubator in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020. Nonprofit organizations pick up the prepared meals for distribution. (Photo: Steve Griffin, KSL)

“When you’re in the middle of a lockdown, you have to view things differently,” said Jonathan Ruga, the CEO and co-founder of Sentry Financial Corp., one of the initiative’s backers. “It’s just one of those things where we started thinking about all these things, and then it was just connecting the dots. Let’s create a program where restaurants can provide food to groups that can connect to people that need food, and the community can help fund it.”

Nourish to Flourish started small, with only one restaurant involved initially, but it soon expanded to include seven local restaurants and will add two more in the coming weeks.

Not only are the meals “nutritious” and “delicious,” as Wilson called them in her speech, but they are also ethnically diverse.

The International Rescue Committee helps people suffering from humanitarian crises around the world. One of its programs in Salt Lake City, Supporting the Pursuit of Innovative Culinary Entrepreneurs Kitchen Incubator, is a group that helps disadvantaged people and refugees start and sustain culinary businesses.

Soon after the pandemic hit, the International Rescue Committee in Salt Lake City “implemented a cross-programmatic pandemic response to serve the needs of its multicultural clients and communities,” said Jackie Rodabaugh, the community relations coordinator for the kitchen incubator program.

Many of the businesses the kitchen incubator was nurturing were closed in March and April due to the pandemic, but have now reopened and are involved in the Nourish to Flourish Initiative, which gives the entrepreneurs a steady source of income.

It also benefits the people receiving the food.

AmeriCorps volunteer Xavier Quintana, right, removes a hot pan of chicken for Wazir Abdalla Mohamed, with Namash Swahili Cuisine, left, as they prepare meals at the Spice Kitchen Incubator in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020. Mohamed was making Swahili baked chicken, spiced rice and cabbage salad meals that nonprofit organizations pick up for distribution. (Photo: Steve Griffin, KSL)

When providing food for refugees, it is especially important to have restaurants that understand ethnic and religious dictates, said Aden Batar, the director over Migration and Refugee Services at Catholic Community Services. And who better to serve refugees food than fellow refugees?

“At this time, SPICE entrepreneurs have provided meals from nine different countries, including Venezuela, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kenya, Somalia, the Philippines, Mexico, Myanmar and Bhutan,” Rodabaugh said.

Around 3,600 meals are currently being prepared each week by the Nourish to Flourish Initiative, according to Ruga. And that number will balloon to nearly 5,000 once the additional restaurants are incorporated.

Ruga said even once the pandemic ends, he doesn’t see the service ending. He hopes these changes to restaurants’ business models can be permanent and continue to benefit the Salt Lake community as a whole.

“For those to whom much is given, much is expected,” he said Wednesday. “When you have the skills, the background, the means and the privilege to make a positive difference in society, then you have a moral obligation to do so.”

The Nourish to Flourish Initiative is administered by the Lightspark Foundation, a nonprofit “dedicated to funding social justice initiatives,” according to the initiative’s website.

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