Feeding Chittenden chef Jim Logan
A few weeks ago, Jim Logan was working as a chef-instructor at the Community Kitchen Academy
, a culinary jobs program based at Feeding Chittenden
in Burlington’s Old North End. He taught aspiring cooks and, with his students, made meals for people who get food at the nonprofit on North Winooski Avenue.
That building is now closed to the public. Food-shelf clients — and it’s a growing population — not long ago selected their own groceries. Now they receive a pre-packed box of food. The breakfast program, formerly sit-down, is takeout.
“The meal program is fragile,” said Rob Meehan, director of Feeding Chittenden. “We’re trying to make sure we keep everybody out of the building. The longer we can keep that building going, the better.”
The effort to minimize the number of people at the site complies with public health guidelines related to reducing the risk of exposure to the coronavirus.
Among the people who are
working in the building is Logan. He recently shifted his focus from chef-instructor to feeding people who are living in emergency housing. Along with a small crew, including two cooks who recently lost their restaurant jobs, Logan is making more than 1,000 meals a day to feed some 350 people who are sheltering in place at local hotels and motels.
The recipients of the meals had been mainly living in shelters, or other group homes, that closed due to the pandemic, according to Candace Morgan of the Agency of Human Services. The state emergency housing program provided 45 rooms to those in need on March 18. That number has grown to 330, according to Morgan, principal assistant to the agency’s secretary.
For the folks at Feeding Chittenden, overseeing the initiative to provide food for so many people — cooking and packing the meals, arranging for distribution — has left little time to count numbers.
“I’ve never sat down to do the math,” Logan told Seven Days
by phone. “We just do what we need to do.” But after making a quick calculation, he estimated that his organization, with volunteer help, is making and delivering about 7,000 meals a week.
“This came into being really quickly, within a matter of days,” Logan said. “The first couple of days it was push, push, push, with a lot of parts to bring together quickly.”
Courtesy of Feeding Chittenden
Jim Logan (left) and his team at Feeding Chittenden
Leaning on his 40 years of experience as a chef — including working as a banquet chef at Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf Campus — Logan soon put a structure in place.
“It’s incredibly smooth,” he said of the operation. “It’s like clockwork. Every day it gets better and better.”
Logan plans the menus, with a focus on meals that can be made efficiently and in large volume. On Wednesday, April 8, dinner was kielbasa and baked beans, macaroni and cheese, and Mexican beans with grains and guacamole. (Different sites get different meals, he explained.) Other days, his team has prepared cider beef stew (12 gallons), vegetable paella, roast ham and casseroles. Breakfast and lunch items include fruit, cereal, juice, peanut butter, sandwiches and salads.
Meal deliveries to the sites are typically made in the afternoon, giving each recipient a late lunch, dinner and breakfast for the next morning. On Friday, the deliveries include food for the weekend, Logan said.
At the Travelodge by Windham hotel in South Burlington, meals arrive between 1 and 2 p.m., manager Tracy Garen said. The site has 40 rooms in use for the emergency housing program: 39 are single occupancy, and one is a shared room, she said.
“They love the food,” Garen said. “They’re very happy to get it.”
The meals help people stay put during the day, Garen said. “It’s a good thing,” she said, “because most of them don’t have to go anywhere.”
Food and other supplies come from several sources, including the Vermont Foodbank
and area supermarkets, according to Feeding Chittenden. In addition, City Market, Onion River Co-op and New Moon Café are contributing meals to this effort, Logan said, as has the Skinny Pancake.
Feeding Chittenden is grateful for the help. Meehan, the director, said the organization experienced a 30 percent increase in people using its supermarket in the second half of March.
Across the state, food pantries "are in a panic," he said, adding that the majority are "volunteer-based, in small communities, run by people who are retired." Those organizations are grappling with how to operate without letting people in.
"I think the onus should shift to federal and state government to make sure that all of us are protected in a crisis like this," Meehan continued. "Most people in hunger relief around the nation are looking at months of hard times for people we're serving."
Working in the kitchen at Feeding Chittenden, Logan and his cooks wear masks and gloves, keep a suitable distance from each other, and routinely wash their hands and change their gloves — precautionary measures put in place due to the pandemic.
After four decades in the restaurant business, including doing work that he said can be "elitist," Logan's job at Feeding Chittenden is a “perfect way” to close out his career.
“It’s kind of a capstone,” he said. “This is kind of giving back, and I really appreciate it. When I teach, I’m trying to give people a fresh start. We need to go back and strengthen our communities. This is probably where I should be.”