Melbourne 'Meals for Hospo' grows

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Jason ‘Jackie’ Chan (Hats and Tatts) and Henry Le (Ends & Means)

Jason ‘Jackie’ Chan and Henry LeIn the wake of the collapse of the hospitality industry due to the coronavirus pandemic, two bar owners — Jason ‘Jackie’ Chan (Hats and Tatts) and Henry Le (Ends & Means) — launched a delivery soup kitchen offering free meals to Melbourne’s most vulnerable hospitality workers. The initiative started with the simple goal of trying to keep their recently stood down employees fed.

They are now leading a team of 36 volunteers delivering thousands of meals across Melbourne.

The CoVid-19 E.A.D. Initiative produces a range of chef-cooked, pre-packaged meals which are then distributed via contact-less delivery (within a 20km radius of the Melbourne CBD). All meals are free of charge.

In an industry disproportionately made up of casual workers, hard-working visa holders, students and young people — all the groups that have been left out of the government stimulus package — there is an urgent and on-going need for assistance. When Le posted about the initiative on a Facebook group for bartenders, he received over 450 requests for help within the span of two days. “We realised the problem was a lot bigger than we thought,” said Le.

The initiative has grown at lightning speed. In the first week of operation (29 March), Chan and Le delivered 120 meals to 27 unemployed hospitality workers. As word spread and requests for assistance multiplied, they realised they were preparing for an ultra-marathon, not a sprint. As of 24 May, CoVid-19 E.A.D. has delivered 7,595 meals, driven 3161km and touched over 1,000 hospo workers’ lives. The project has required the use of five commercial kitchens, additional freezer storage space, and enough food to warrant a forklift.

Local businesses across the community are stepping up to support the initiative, donating everything from food hampers to car courier signs. Major charity partners include Oz Harvest and FareShare, who are helping keep the cost of meals low with their food donations. Rice Paper Scissors, Hats and Tatts, The Lincoln, Lover, and The Big Group all opened their commercial kitchens to the volunteer chefs. From the Collective became the central distribution centre. Colonial Brewing Company is supplying weekly drops of beer and cider. Pasta Classica and Navy Strength are both providing freezer access (the heart of the logistics chain). And Gospel Whiskey donated the all-important hand sanitiser.

Getting an initiative of this size up and running in a matter of weeks requires long hours and late nights, but a love for the hospitality community keeps the team going, explains Le.

“The Melbourne hospitality scene has always supported me, from when I was a fresh young dish hand to a venue owner in my own right. This is my chance to give back to the extended hospo family who’ve allowed me to grow into the person I am today.”

The Initiative is seeking donations to continue its work. Donate here.

Hospitality workers in need of assistance can register here.

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