This week, a 13,000-square-foot events space in D.C.’s Park View neighborhood has turned into a relief center helping service industry workers secure essentials while fallout from the coronavirus pandemic grinds restaurant business to a halt.
Since Monday, Hook Hall (3400 Georgia Avenue NW) has been distributing meals and care packages to a crowd facing reduced or revoked schedules and inconsistent pay. On Wednesday, organizers put out a call to chefs to volunteer kitchens and empty their walk-ins to help feed kids who attend nearby El Haynes Public Charter School, too. Sign up here to help.
Affected workers and students can drop by for “Hook Hall Care Kits” packed with canned foods, non-perishable snacks like chips and cookies, pita bread, milk, tampons, toilet paper, and other items that can be tough to find at overwhelmed grocery stores.
“Things that aren’t sexy to talk about to get us through the day,” Hook Hall founder Anna Valero says. “Through our distributors [FoodPro and Sysco] we can still get lots of these products.”
Some more exciting donations are enough ribs for 150 people, frrom PJ Clarke’s, and 3,000 oysters courtesy of Hank’s Oyster Bar owner Jamie Leeds. On Thursday, Congressional Seafood plans to deliver 250 pounds of mussels, 130 pounds of butterflied bronzini, 100 pounds of royal sea bass, and four gallons of shucked oysters.
To fund the care packages, the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington has set up a Workers’ Relief Fund that, as of Wednesday afternoon, had raised over $57,000.
Restaurants are also donating meals to Hook Hall to replicate the reliable “family meal” that restaurants typically give their staff during service. Homegrown shawarma chain Muncheez donated 500 sandwiches for Monday’s dinner. Maggiano’s also committed to sending meals to Hook Hall this week (1,000 carryout containers of lasagna). This afternoon, Charlie Palmer Steak dropped off a truck of produce, including onions, carrots, avocados, limes, and fennel.
“Chefs are reaching out saying we can cook meals for large groups of people — we just need supplies,” says Valero.
To help with coordination, Occasions Caterers is putting its truck fleet on standby mode, ready to pick up any items restaurants are willing to send from their kitchen. Interested parties can sign up here. Queen Vic’s Ryan Gordon is spearheading the effort as a volunteer and also using his H Street kitchen to flip product into meals. On Wednesday, he’s racing to make 475 portions of roast chicken, duck fat-roasted potatoes and fried Brussels sprouts by 3 p.m. for kids who attend the temporarily-closed El Haynes school up the street.
“Now, time is of the essence. We know that closures and quarantines are coming down the pipeline,” Valero says. “The best way to ensure folks are fed for the next few weeks is to get as many meals and supplies into their hands in one pickup.”
Hook Hall is looking for restaurateurs who are willing to build as many packaged, to-go meals as possible for industry workers to refrigerate or freeze. If any kitchen is able to provide meals, representatives can fill out this form, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We are at a time no one has any right answers. The consistent thing we are hearing is something is always better than nothing,” Valery says.
“We want to be a resource, and do it as safely and cleanly as we can.”
Hook Hall will continue to provide the kits throughout the duration of the coronavirus pandemic, as long as supplies last.
Hook Hall will respond to the latest restaurant-related regulations going into effect, including the mayor’s edict to shut down restaurants (aside from takeout and delivery).
Update: Wednesday, March 18. This post has been updated to reflect new donations at Hook Hall