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Tacoma restaurants help feed families during pandemic through unique program

Help Kitchen allows families in need of food to text their orders to participating restaurant partners and pickup the food that day.

TACOMA, Wash — Families all over the country are facing financial hardships due the pandemic. Even meeting basic needs like food have been a challenge, but a program in Washington is helping people stay fed. 

Help Kitchen is prioritizing feeding hungry families during the pandemic. The organization has partnered with local restaurants in Tacoma to provide hot meals for more than 8,000 families a month. 

And, it's all through text.

"They are able to request meals and assigned pickup times and dates and they come in and get their take home meal and take home to the family," said Jennifer Robbins, the project manager for Help Kitchen. 

"We cook the meals on site and we cook them fresh to order each time," said Nathan Vaughn, the general manager of Harmon Pac Ave, which is a participating restaurant in Tacoma. 

Before the pandemic, more than 35 million people struggled with hunger in the United States, including more than 10 million children, according to Feeding America

Now, with COVID leaving millions of families without stable employment, Feed America estimated more than 50 million people may experience food insecurity this year. 

Robbins said it's just one reason organizations like Help Kitchen are working hard to keep people from going hungry. 

"For families and people who are having trouble making ends meet, it’s been a wonderful resource and it’s something that people can use to supplement their weekly food budget," said Robbins.

Harmon Pac Ave provides 40 meals a day to families through its partnership with Help Kitchen. 

"It just feels really good to know that we have the ability to help somebody who may not be able to find a hot meal that day. It feels really good," said Vaughn.

Veronica Reed, at St. Leo's Food Connection in Tacoma, said food insecurity is something families are experiencing a lot of during this season. 

"Working at the food bank and seeing firsthand the concern from people who don’t know where they’re gonna get their next meal outside of the food bank. It’s definitely concerning," said Reed. 

And, Help Kitchen doesn't just help families, restaurants are also benefiting from the program. 

"Restaurants have been really struggling, so it's great that they’ve allowed us to make revenue during this process. It’s really, really good," said Vaughn. 

"It’s been a huge blessing for people that I know that have used it and for those who come into the food bank and let us know that this service was the difference between them not being able to feed themselves that night," Reed said. 

So, how does it work? 

There are currently fourteen partners of Help Kitchen in Tacoma. 

Help Kitchen and the partners work together to identify families in need. From there, families are given a number to text to request food from a restaurant partner. Once the food is ready, they're able to pick it up and take it home. 

If you're needing help or wondering how to get involved, visit the Help Kitchen website here