Jun 11, 2020      News      

Collaboration, donations lead to meals for Central Oregonians in need

Families are juggling bills and putting food on the table due to financial hardship related to the coronavirus. While some have been able to enjoy takeout from fine restaurants, many families and individuals have been on a strict budget, some to the point of food insecurity. Steve and Cheri Helt, owners of Zydeco Kitchen and Cocktails and Bistro 28, saw how their own business was affected. Cheri, who is a state representative for Bend, is always looking for ways to serve the community. She knew there were individuals who were struggling to pay for food and make ends meet.

As much as the Helts wanted to help by offering free meals to the community, they knew it wasn’t possible for the restaurant to foot the bill 100 %. Zydeco could provide the labor, but they needed a partner to pay for the groceries.

When Cheri approached Hayden Homes, they were quick to agree to pay for the food and offer volunteers. Deborah Flagan, vice president of community affairs at Hayden Homes, said “Hayden Homes has a give-as-you-go credo. We believe in helping the communities in which we build in. We’re always looking for opportunities to align with that will build a strong community and/or give back.” The company committed to donating for the cost of food for the first two weeks, and 10 Barrel Brewing and Silver Moon offered beer to go with each meal.

The project was named Our Kitchen Your Table. There are 250 meals served each week, with the give away focusing on a different sector of those in need each time. The program started May 18, serving those who were unemployed and unable to receive benefits. The second week began on Memorial Day. Food was available to honor veterans in Central Oregon.

Steve Helt spoke of one veteran who had planned to pick up a meal on Memorial Day. The man called the restaurant to say that he had been drinking that day and couldn’t make it in. While the program is a pickup service, volunteers will pitch in and deliver food to those who are housebound. The Helts made an exception and took the meal to the Redmond veteran. Steve said the man answered the door with tears of appreciation.

On Friday of veteran’s week, 40 meals were still available. The Helts contacted Central Oregon Veterans Association. Volunteers picked up the meals and delivered healthy gourmet food to the homeless around town.

The following week was focused on hospitality workers. It was made possible through a donation by The Loft with Deschutes Brewery providing beer. Severson Plumbing donated money toward food for health care workers.

How it works

Each week, exactly 250 meals are made available.

There is a link to an application on the Zydeco Facebook page. Fill in your name, email, which sector you are in, and the number of people in your family. You can order a family-style meal that feeds up to four adults.

Depending on when you apply, you will receive a confirmation email with a day and time to pick up your meal. Our Kitchen Your Table meals are scheduled for pickup between 3 and 4:30 p.m.

The meal

The Helts did not cut corners on the meals that are provided by Our Kitchen Your Table. It is the same quality food you’d taste at Zydeco by Chef Steve Helt. My son and I were able to try a meal during hospitality week. The four-course dinner included a fresh spring salad, jerk pork tenderloin, sweet potatoes, a cut corn salad and carrot cake for dessert.

We were blown away by the care taken in the preparation of this “charity” meal. It was a massive salad with housemade champagne vinegar dressing that included small chopped dates and hazelnuts. The jerk pork tenderloin was unbelievably tender with an accent of oregano. The corn salad was made from corn freshly cut from the cob and mixed with grape tomatoes, feta cheese and basil chiffonades. It was delicious, plentiful and would be a treat to anyone — but especially to those who have been keeping food costs down.

Other resources for children and seniorsThe Helts have put together Our Kitchen Your Table with the hopes that other restaurants and businesses will follow suit and create charitable meal programs. They are glad to offer help and advice to other restaurants who want to try a similar program.

Village Baker put together a school children lunch program at the beginning of the shutdown called Sack Lunch. With school out, they saw a need to help feed school-aged children and their families who were not getting free school lunches. The bakery partnered with Boars Head by Hauge and High Desert Produce to provide healthy, tasty lunches to those who are food insecure. The program is ongoing. Each Sack Lunch includes soup, bread for a sandwich (either meat or peanut butter and jelly) and a cookie or muffin, all made by Village Baker. Each lunch also includes a piece of fruit and a vegetable. A child or family can come in to request a sack lunch. There is no proof or specific requirement. If you need a sack lunch, simply ask for it.

While not a restaurant, Touching Hearts at Home will deliver a free gourmet meal to seniors, people with disabilities, veterans or others who are housebound. As he lost clientele during the shutdown, Steve Pine, owner of Touching Hearts, was able to obtain a Paycheck Protection Program loan to hire a few caregivers. It turned out that one of the new hires is an experienced chef.

When one veteran asked if he could have meals delivered, Pine decided to offer free food to those who needed meals. His new employee trained and worked under a “Top Chef” finalist and brings experience to the preparation of the free meals. Full meals are provided. Menus have included paella, vindaloo chicken, chicken piccata, and roasted golden beet salad with herbed goat cheese.

The funding goes until the end of June. If you or someone you know would benefit from a fresh fine epicurean meal, contact Touching Hearts at touchinghearts.com/centraloregon or call 541-633-9214.

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