The LEE Initiative—Let’s Empower Employment—spearheaded by Chef Edward Lee, has been doing heroic work during the pandemic. Early on, it launched The Restaurant Workers Relief Program, a partnership with Makers Mark, which continues to transform dozens of shuttered restaurants into food pantry relief centers for laid off industry workers.
Seven nights a week at participating restaurants, teams pack hundreds of to-go meals for laid off workers to pick up and take home. In addition to prepared dinners, the restaurants supply essentials such as diapers, baby food, non-perishable canned foods and cereals, toilet paper, paper towels, notebooks and pencils, aspirin and more along with bags of fresh produce. The program has been able to provide over 400,000 meals and thousands of pounds of supplies to out of work restaurant employees in nineteen cities across the country. Chef Lee says they plan to continue to offer this program until they can no longer financially support the program.
The list of participating restaurants is growing, but as of now it includes Brooklyn’s Olmstead and Gertie, Cochon in New Orleans, Big Star Wicker Park in Chicago, The Source Hotel & Market Hll in Denver, Salare in Seattle, Mita’s in Cincinnati: chi Spacca in Los Angeles, Succotash in Washington DC, 610 Magnolia in Louisville, and Tuk Tuk and Great Bagel Boston Road in Lexington, KY.
But the closures of restaurants around the country have done more than leave hundreds of thousands of hourly-wage workers unemployed. It has contributed to weakening an already broken food supply chain, exposing weaknesses and leaving sustainable farmers extremely vulnerable and at risk of losing everything.
To help support the farmers and the food system, the LEE Initiative has now launched the Restaurant Reboot Relief Program, which will run for at least a year.
The LEE Initiative’s co-founders, Chef Edward Lee and director Lindsey Ofcacek, decided to take aim at this issue by committing to investing $1 million in sustainable farms in 16 regions around the country. The funds are used to purchase food from partner farms and, and the product is given directly to partner restaurants in those communities, helping the farms get up and running and the restaurants reopened.