Photo Credit: LA Family Housing & Redbird

The COVID-19 crisis has turned just about every aspect of daily life on its head, but at the same time, has shined the spotlight on selflessness, charity, and the ability for people to mobilize with unprecedented speed. Amidst this pandemic, an unlikely partnership has formed, one which exemplifies all three of the aforementioned attributes. LA Family Housing (LAFH) is a nonprofit dedicated to helping people out of homelessness. Redbird and its adjacent event space, Vibiana, represent upscale Modern American fare and lavish happenings, bringing more than 1,000 of LA’s finest under one roof in a single evening [remember those days?]. 

Now, Redbird is using its kitchen and staff to cook up more than 1,300 meals each day for LAFH’s clients. With event operations suspended and a culinary infrastructure built for high volume, this fine dining establishment is seizing the opportunity to do some good in the world. 

“The second it became clear about how serious this [crisis] was, we immediately thought about how we could take care of our employees and contribute to the community,” said Amy Knoll Fraser, Co-Owner of Redbird and Vibiana. She runs the restaurant and event space with her husband and Executive Chef, Neal Fraser.

Knoll Fraser was introduced to Stephanie Klasky-Gamer, President and CEO of LAFH, through foodie event host Billy Harris. 

“It was a Wednesday, and I was talking to one of my board members. We knew that with their kids being home and loss of employment, access to food was going to be challenging for our clients,” Klasky-Gamer said. LAFW refers to the individuals and families they serve as clients. “He said let me make a call. 90 minutes later, I was talking to Billy [Harris] and he put Amy on the line.”

“By Friday night, we had 1,300 meals. It was amazing.”

Logistics came together at breakneck speed. LAFH’s long-term food partners came through with ingredients fit for nutritious meals, alongside other food suppliers bringing inventory from restaurants that couldn’t make use of it. Redbird hit the ground running, preparing hundreds of meals at a time with whatever made its way into the kitchen.

“We do 600 events a year. We’re set up for volume,” Knoll Fraser said. With her calm demeanor, you’d never guess she’d handled such a massive undertaking in such a short amount of time. “To be able to pull this off for our culinary team is not as challenging as it sounds.”

A 10-person kitchen crew churns out meals as efficiently as a NASCAR pit crew changes out a car, with a facilities manager responsible for packaging everything as it comes off the line. Meals are packaged in double portions where possible to save on plastic. Most of this work is completed by 11 a.m.

Two trucks ship the food to LAFH’s main campus in North Hollywood. By 2 p.m., it’s loaded up in cars that drive out to clusters of clients sprawled across LA. The goal is to have every meal delivered to some 450 clients and their families by 4:30 p.m. And while the operation runs like clockwork, it’s perhaps an even bigger shift for LAFH as it is for Redbird.

“We’ve never delivered food to [clients] before, and it’s the same families we’ve worked with for years,” Klasky-Gamer said. “This is something we want to keep up. They’re not getting access to healthy meals, even in the best of times.”

The benefits are tallying up for LAFH. They’ve increased their engagement time between clients and their ‘housing navigators,’ or those responsible for helping individuals and families secure permanent housing. They also opened three new shelters in less than two weeks, with a forth coming as of the time of this writing. 

“We’ve never done anything like that in that time frame. Developing protocols and staffing structures is a very different operation than we’ve had in the past,” Klasky-Gamer said. “We’ve brought all these people inside that we’ve been looking to do for years. We had washing stations outside encampments within 3 days…we were never able to do that before.”

For LAFH, the COVID-19 crisis has been a catalyst for swift movement. For Redbird, it’s another example of the team’s ability to handle just about anything the times throw at them, as well as a chance to give back to the community in a new and different way.

“Homelessness is something we’ve been trying to figure out how to help with for a long time. We were in talks with the Mayor to create a chefs collective and a fundraiser,” Fraser Knoll said. “We want to figure out how to keep a program like this going. It’ll be challenging once we’re back at full speed, but having it in some capacity would be great.”

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