Husband and wife team Kim Calichio and Omar Bravo-Pavia left the restaurant business to offer low-cost cooking classes to families in the Queens, New York area through their nonprofit organization The Connected Chef.
As was the case with many other businesses, the pandemic caused them to shift to addressing the dire needs of their community.
When the hunger crisis started to emerge as a result of job losses and delays in unemployment insurance, the duo stepped in to offer fresh fruits and vegetables from local farms.
“When we started something, we didn’t know we’re going to get this big,” said Bravo-Pavia.
Since they shifted course in March of last year, Calichio and Bravo-Pavia have worked to provide over 700 families in the area fresh groceries on a sliding scale through their Lifeline Grocery Initiative.
They have maintained their network of families since they started, keeping in contact with the families to continue delivering fresh groceries.
“We work really hard to make sure that we’re not just kind of throwing food out into the community,” she said. “It is continuously helpful.”
Colichio described it as a mutual aid effort. As a nonprofit, The Connected Chef relies on regular donations and a team of volunteers. Seventy-five percent of their staff are restaurant workers who were laid off during the pandemic.
“We’ve had families tell us, especially last year in the height of everything,” she said. “If they didn’t receive food from us, they wouldn’t, they literally wouldn’t have anything to eat.”
Living in an underserved community, both Colichio and Bravo-Pavia were aware of the issue of food insecurity. Colichio referred to the barrier in access to groceries between richer and poorer families in the area as “food apartheid.”
“We are very much a part of that community that is affected by food apartheid, and often experiences food insecurity,” she said. “Though a lot of the work that we did with The Connected Chef before wasn’t directly related to food insecurity, we always made sure that the programming that we offered allowed people to participate at any level, regardless of what their access was.”
Feeding America reported that food insecurity was at a 20-year low before the pandemic in 2019, with 1 in 9 people (35 million) going to bed hungry. That rate went up to 1 in 7 (45 million people) last year, and is expected to only tick down to 1 in 8 (42 million people).
Through these challenging times, Bravo-Pavia says that he and his wife have worked well together.
“We are learning to do the same thing together and make choices together, and sometimes we don’t agree and sometimes we do,” he said. “Yeah. It’s a challenge. In a really good way.”