Local chefs team up with schools to provide spring break fare

A woman picks up bags of lunch in front of a food truck.
Marvyl Cournoyea (left) picks up food for her children with help from restaurant owner and chef Leo Judeh on Tuesday, March 31, 2020 at Jackson Elementary School. A group of local chefs are cooking and serving 1,000 hot lunches to St. Paul Public Schools families this week during spring break.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

St. Paul Public Schools is continuing to feed students while schools are closed under the governor’s emergency coronavirus order. But the district hadn’t initially planned on continuing to serve free lunches to students and their families during spring break.

“We weren’t prepared for it,” said Jackie Turner, chief operations officer for the district. “Nor were our vendors prepared to have food this week for us.”

But thanks to help from a lot of volunteers, school staff and other community partners, Turner said the district is providing thousands of meals to students this week.

Food is available through the district’s own food truck. And Turner said school staff are also delivering meals curbside.

Several other organizations, like the YMCA and the Salvation Army are offering free food and lunches for students in need. And a few local chefs have also pledged to prepare 1,000 meals per day and serve them through the Fare Well food truck.

A man wearing gloves holds containers of stew.
Chef J.D. Fratzke packs containers of chickpea curry stew on Tuesday, March 31, 2020 at Jackson Elementary School. A group of local chefs are cooking and serving 1,000 hot lunches to St. Paul Public Schools families this week.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

The chefs are from three St. Paul restaurants — Shish, Grand Catch and The Handsome Hog.

“They also heard that we weren’t going to be able to potentially serve food this week, for spring break,” said Turner. “And because they are actually in the city and support the schools and support our students and families, they wanted to be able to do something. So that our students would have access to meals.”

Leo Judeh owns Shish and Grand Catch. Today he is preparing lamb and chickpea stew with saffron rice. Judeh, a Palestinian who came to America in 1996 from his home in Jerusalem, said providing food for people in need is just one way he can give back to a community which he loves being part of.

“For me, it’s a joy. It feeds my soul,” said Judeh, who has two children in the school system. He said this is also good for his staff members who need to work. "They come in the morning excited that we're going to be busy. We're going to do what we do best — cooking and helping others. It's priceless."

A man packs bags of lunch inside a food truck.
Chef Brandon Randolph packs meals in the Fare Well food truck Tuesday, March 31, 2020 at Jackson Elementary School.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

MPR News reporter Tim Nelson contributed to this story.

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