Feb 1, 2024 - Food and Drink

New Orleans restaurants partner with nonprofit on new fridge program to feed people for free

Photo shows Mark Bucher putting baby food in a Feed the Fridge community fridge.

Mark Bucher owns Medium Rare on Magazine Street. He wants to expand Feed the Fridge, his D.C.-based nonprofit, to New Orleans. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/AFP

New Orleans restaurant owners are partnering with a D.C.-based nonprofit to help stamp out hunger.

Driving the news: Feed the Fridge is expanding to New Orleans to provide free ready-to-eat meals around the city. The program is separate from the existing, volunteer-run community fridge program.

  • Mark Bucher, a Washington, D.C.-based restaurateur, owns Feed the Fridge and Medium Rare, which opened a Magazine Street location last year.
  • "Restaurants and chefs are the real way to solve our hunger problem," Bucher told his industry peers at a recent lunch in New Orleans. "Wouldn't it be nice if no one was hungry? It changes things."

How it works: Feed the Fridge puts branded fridges in public spaces and partners with restaurants to fill them once a day with ready-to-eat meals.

  • The nonprofit focuses on prepared meals instead of ingredients because, Bucher says, not everyone has the tools or knowledge to cook.
  • The meals are available to anyone on a first-come, first-serve basis. No paperwork is needed.
  • It's all part of Bucher's "nourishment with dignity" mission — no judgment, no second-rate food, writes Axios' Anna Spiegel.

By the numbers: Feed the Fridge pays restaurants for the meals they stock in fridges.

  • The money comes from donations. The biggest source in D.C., Bucher said, is a line item on customer checks at restaurants asking for contributions to the nonprofit.
Photo shows a fridge labeled with "Feed the Fridge" at the top
Feed the Fridge added ready-to-feed baby formula in some locations during a baby formula shortage in 2022. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/AFP

Who's involved: Medium Rare, Dickie Brennan & Co., Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group, Howlin' Wolf, Southern Hospitality Catering and Chef Diva Foods have partnered with Feed the Fridge in New Orleans, according to Simone Rathlé, a publicist who works with the nonprofit.

  • Other partners are in progress. In D.C., the nonprofit has 20 restaurants it works with regularly.
  • Feed the Fridge uses DoorDash to get the meals delivered to the refrigerators.

Flashback: Bucher started Feed the Fridge at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic as a way to deliver free meals to senior citizens. The program has since grown to 29 fridges and provided more than 700,000 meals in D.C. and Maryland.

Timeline: The New Orleans expansion is in the early stages, Bucher said.

  • The nonprofit already has the fridges for New Orleans, he said, and it's now focusing on restaurant partners and funding.
Share of households that are food insecure
Data: USDA; Map: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

The big picture: Food insecurity rates in Louisiana are higher than the national average, according to USDA data.

  • Second Harvest Food Bank, the largest food nonprofit in south Louisiana, works in 23 parishes and provides more than 32 meals annually. The nonprofit is in the process of expanding its facilities so it can provide 70 million meals a year, writes Axios' Chelsea Brasted.

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