Jul 30, 2023 - Food and Drink

The D.C. steakhouse owner who's feeding thousands of locals in need

Mark Bucher of Feed the Fridge

Mark Bucher stocks a community fridge. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

Everyone knows D.C.'s star chef-humanitarian José Andrés. But there's another chef-tarian working to feed local families in need: Medium Rare restaurateur Mark Bucher.

Why it matters: Bucher's nonprofit Feed the Fridge is one of Washington's few pandemic-born emergency response organizations that's still active and expanding.

Driving the news: Bucher placed five new "community fridges" in Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington (BGCGW) locations this month, which are expected to feed anywhere from 25 to 100 families a day.

  • That amounts to a total of 6,000 meals this summer, a time when D.C. kids can go hungry with school lunch off the table.

How it works: Feed the Fridge uses donations to pay restaurants like Lebanese Taverna, which in turn stock a dozen-odd fridges in community centers and schools with free, nutritious meals. On Fridays, partner Charlie Palmer dishes up steak dinners.

  • It's all part of Bucher's "nourishment with dignity" mission — no judgment, no second-rate food.

Flashback: The nonprofit's seed was planted during the early pandemic shutdown when Bucher began feeding homebound seniors from his steak-frites restaurants (and his own pockets) with volunteer help.

  • Thousands of dinners and dollars later, he founded Feed the Fridge in 2021.

Stunning stats: Around 1 million free meals served and more than $3 million given to participating restaurants since 2020.

  • Feed the Fridge supplies more than 20,000 meals a week to DMV elderly, youth, and the homebound.
  • It's not just food: the nonprofit sourced 100K bottles of baby formula during last year's shortage.

What's next: Bucher has a knack for pinpointing holes in food relief — and underserved populations. He's working to address recent changes and cuts in D.C. SNAP benefits.

  • The nutrition program covers ingredients, but Bucher notes that cookware and skills are also essential to preparing healthy meals.
  • "SNAP's intent is amazing, (but) the execution has problems," says Bucher, who's working with BGCGW and Montgomery College to launch SNAP-based cooking classes where participants go home with mental and physical cooking tools.

Another project: Addressing food insecurity on college campuses when dining facilities close for holidays (a tough lesson Feed the Fridge learned serving 30-odd American University students this past Christmas).

What they're saying: "The traditional methods of food pantries and soup kitchens — you have to go get the food, maybe get it home and cook it," says Bucher, who's still looking for big donors to expand. "Though we started as a short-term pandemic response, we can play a major role in solving hunger by transforming 'food insecurity' into 'meal security.'"

Feed the Fridge locations near D.C.
Data: Axios Research. Chart: Rahul Mukherjee/Axios. Note: Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Washington - Germantown is not shown on the map.

Be smart: Bucher's community fridges are open to anyone who needs a meal.

  • You don't need to apply or fill out paperwork or show an ID — you just show up.

Hours vary by location.

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