6,000 Meals Distributed To Support Latino Restaurants And Those Struggling Due To COVID-19
A line of cars funneled into the Charlotte Motor Speedway parking lot Thursday night. People with flashlights directed drivers down six lanes with tents at the end. One by one, drivers pulled up to the tents where groups of volunteers handed them food, cookies and bottles of water.
Latino music played on large speakers keeping spirits warm on an otherwise cold night. The cars never stopped for long. For two hours, a seemingly never-ending line of cars rolled up to the tents to pick up some of the 6,000 meals handed out, in total.
The Latin American Chamber of Commerce organized the Community Kitchen Program event to distribute meals to members of the community. They knew there was a lot of need. But the Chamber’s Events and Programs Manager Debbie Ortega said they didn’t expect for it to be that high.
“I was originally worried to see if we would actually get a turnout,” Ortega said. “I’m very happy to see that everybody is here. My concern now is that I didn’t order enough food.”
The Chamber launched its Community Kitchen Program in September. Since then, they’ve held 47 events handing out a total of 48,000 meals.
This event at the Speedway was the largest one yet. With funds from Blue Cross Blue Shield, the Chamber hired 25 Latino-owned restaurants and food trucks to make the 6,000 free meals.
Locos Tacos food truck owner Jose Guerra stood inside his truck packaging Styrofoam boxes for his 400 chicken fajita meals.
“I feel really blessed and I’m really grateful they considered me for this event. Especially since I had a really hard time last year because of the pandemic,” Guerra said. “I was closed for four months, so I’m very thankful I’m working again. With this money I’m receiving I can pay the business’ bills and even my house’s rent.”
Guerra said he didn’t get any government loans over the past year. He dipped into his savings to make ends meet while his food truck was closed for four months. He’s the only source of income for his family of four.
“I felt a lot of pressure and at times I got depressed,” Guerra said. “I depend on a business that depends entirely on sales, so to see no money was coming in and instead I was just spending and spending. I would get home and feel depressed and ask God to help me and my family get through this.”
It was this need from small restaurant owners around Charlotte that led the Latin American Chamber of Commerce to launch the program. LACC President Gris Bailey said the need for support from both businesses and the community is clear. And the Community Kitchen Program is what she calls a win-win for both groups.
“To see so many people show up,t shows you, No. 1, the necessity. And it shows you, No. 2, the gratefulness," Bailey said, "that they’re willing to line up, to come and just partake in this event.”
Three cars away from picking up meals for his family, Salvador, who chose not to give his full name, said the pandemic has been difficult, but events like these have really helped.
“It’s great because we all need food. I’m really grateful for everyone who is here,” Salvador said.
Over in another lane, Migdalia Reyes said she’s thankful for her job and is doing OK . It’s her neighbors she’s worried about, and she’s here to get them food.
“They’ve been doing really poorly because the pandemic hasn’t allowed them to keep going out and working,” Reyes said.
Reyes got to the event just in time. Volunteers waved away hundreds of cars as the last meals were handed out.
The night’s event made it clear to The Latin American Chamber of Commerce that there is a demand for food. They want to continue the program and expand it.