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Nasser Jaber’s social impact catering company The Migrant Kitchen is all about connecting people through amazing food. That mission certainly didn’t end when the coronavirus pandemic began wreaking havoc in New York City, the epicenter of the deadly virus in the United States.
Within days of the city shutting down with the aim of stopping the spread, The Migrant Kitchen stepped up to feed not just those on the frontlines but New Yorkers who are food insecure, Jaber told The North Star. The company was set to cater lunch for WeWork’s Dock 72 location when all non-essential businesses were ordered to shut down.
New York City has been the hardest hit in the coronavirus pandemic, with more than 16,000 deaths in the city alone. According to Johns Hopkins University, the counties that make up the greater New York City area have the highest concentration of cases.
“The shutdown happened and I was with Dan [Dorado, Jaber’s business partner] in the car and he was like, ‘What are we going to do now?’ and I’m like, ‘Well, I mean there’s nothing we can do.’ So, we have all this food in the fridge that doesn’t go into a freezer. We don’t have a freezer, I think we should just donate it man.”
He said that donating that food “was the beginning” of their ongoing efforts. “Then we started having conversations about food insecurity because, you know…when things like this seriously happen, you automatically know that it’s going to be like hysteria shopping, food shortages…things of that sort,” Jaber told TNS.
To “get the ball moving,” Jaber and his team launched a GoFundMe to raise enough funds to begin seriously feeding those in need. He said the fundraiser raised $300 but they still had food in their freezers, making it possible to drop 1,000 meals at a shelter.
The Migrant Kitchen’s initiative allowed it to keep its employees working and to make use of the food it already had.
When restaurants began shutting down in New York City, Jaber said he started getting calls from his cousins in the medical field asking for meals that weren’t pizza.
“I just started sending something to one unit and then they would tell their friends and their other friends and their other friends and all of a sudden, I built a spiderweb network at every single [COVID-19] unit in New York and we started feeding all the hospitals,” Jaber said.
He acknowledged that The Migrant Kitchen did not have enough money to do their work, but they soon caught the attention of local media. Jaber told TNS that at that point The Migrant Kitchen was only getting by week-to-week, as they continued to provide 1,000 meals a day.
The Migrant Kitchen isn’t just focused on feeding medical professionals on the frontlines, but it is also feeding people who are undocumented and the Muslim community. The catering company has linked up with several organizations, including Make the Road New York, World Central Kitchen and City Harvest.
Since The Migrant Kitchen began its initiative, it has moved past its 2,000 meals a day goal to 5,000 meals. Eventually, Jaber said he hopes The Migrant Kitchen will be able to produce 10,000 meals a day. Jaber said that 5,000 of those meals will go towards feeding healthcare workers on the frontlines and the other 5,000 will go towards feeding the food insecure and the Muslim community.
“That’s going to be an intense operation,” Jaber acknowledged. “It’s a long, long process. We have a lot of supporters.”
Jaber noted The Migrant Kitchen is getting help from others in the food industry, who are donating things like produce and baked goods. The Migrant Kitchen has also benefited from DoorDash waiving its fees, allowing The Migrant Kitchen to deliver food around the city.
“And I’m very happy to say that the Palestinian community and the Latino community came out in masses and started donating. Most of the donations came from the community, so I’m very proud of that,” he said.
Jaber said that without the community’s help, The Migrant Kitchen wouldn’t be able to continue doing what it does. The catering company is not only partnering up with restaurants around New York City to use their kitchens and workers, but is also paying its employees $25 an hour. Jaber told TNS that The Migrant Kitchen also employs “people who don’t have the benefit of unemployment insurance.”
The Migrant Kitchen’s operation during the pandemic is definitely not for the faint of heart. Jaber told TNS that the company has five kitchens running at all times, with a sixth kitchen ready to go up if someone at one of the other kitchens becomes sick. He noted that they’ve had to run to cities like Boston and Philadelphia to purchase containers for their meals.
Jaber also noted the precautions The Migrant Kitchen is maintaining to keep their staff safe and healthy during the coronavirus pandemic. Only eight people are allowed to work in each kitchen and they are all supplied with gloves and masks. Staff also get their temperatures checked every morning.
“This was probably the only people-to-people disaster relief mission or migrant-to-people disaster relief mission,” Jaber continued. “So we’re very proud to be American. We’re really proud to be who we are, of our struggle…very proud to be migrants.”
How to Help
In order to continue its work, The Migrant Kitchen needs the help of anyone who is willing to donate. Jaber said people can continue to donate to the GoFundMe page, so The Migrant Kitchen can continue providing meals to healthcare workers at COVID-19 treatment unites at Bellevue Hospital Center, Lenox Hill Hospital, Memorial Sloan Kettering and other area hospitals.
To learn more about The Migrant Kitchen and all the amazing work it does, visit their website here.
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About the Author
Nicole Rojas is a senior writer for The North Star. She has published in various publications, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Europe, Asia, Australia and the Americas.