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Philadelphia’s popular Mexican restaurant, Philly Barbacoa, also serves social justice issues

When the coronavirus pandemic first hit Philadelphia and the rest of the country, it had a ripple effect on restaurants and individuals.

Husband-and-wife restaurateurs Benjamin Miller and Cristina Martinez, owners of famed South Philly Barbacoa restaurant, quickly adapted to offer take-out service, but had to give up some of the staff, and the photo wasn’t too rosy for neither did their friends and community members. Some were unable to access federal stimulus payments due to their undocumented status.

The couple knew they had to act.

“It was really devastating and heartbreaking to see a lot of restaurants go and see our friends suffer, and that’s how our People’s Kitchen project started – recognizing there is a great need out there, people. are hungry and they also need work ”. Miller said.

In Philadelphia, 21% of the population is food insecure, compared to the national average of 12.9%, according to the nonprofit Feeding America. The People’s Kitchen, a partnership between South Philly Barbacoa and community collaboration 215 People’s Alliance, quickly began serving restaurant-quality food to those in need.

Using the space of Martinez and Miller’s El Compadre, South Philly Barbacoa’s sister restaurant, the couple collaborate with other chefs and volunteers to serve between 215 and 300 meals a day.

Each quarter, different chefs from local restaurants are paid to come and manage the kitchen and the team on a day-to-day basis, giving jobs to those who needed it during the pandemic, Miller said. But the project, which is made possible by most food donations and funds from chef José Andrés’ nonprofit World Central Kitchen, has reach beyond the kitchen.

At Point Breeze, volunteers pick and grow vegetables in a community garden. Delivery drivers also donate their time to distribute some of the food to people who cannot access the physical location of the restaurant.

The scope of the project also goes well beyond feeding people.

“It was also a movement for us to look a bit at what we were lacking in the system and how our restaurants were excluding certain people,” Miller said. “The best food is prepared for the richest customers, so how do we get that food and bring it to people who don’t have it and try to create a more inclusive community that can enjoy the fruits of our labor? ? “

This upward focus also includes the distribution of information. In the largely Latin South Corridor of Philadelphia, for example, volunteers encouraged people to be counted and participate in last year’s census. They have also registered people to vote and partner with community organizations like the Church of the Redeemer Baptist Church and Puentes de Salud, a nonprofit organization that provides health care to the Latino immigrant population of Philadelphia, to distribute meals.

Miller said People’s Kitchen has an operating budget of around $ 25,000 per month. The group is seeking supportive donors to ensure the collaboration continues beyond the end of the pandemic.

“This is our opportunity to build a restaurant model that really uses our talents in the best possible way,” Miller said.

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