When good people do great things, the world is a better place. These good people include a philanthropist, a former NBA star, a 10-year-old Girl Scout and her troop, and some incredible local restaurants.

The pandemic has had an affect on so many of our lives and here in San Diego we’ve also seen an estimated 50% increase in the need to feed our hungry citizens. Hundreds of thousands of people across the county are likewise facing hunger, many for the first time.

Businesses have suffered tremendous losses with the shutdowns, especially our restaurants. And yet, it is some of these restaurants who’ve stepped up to the plate by partnering with Feeding San Diego and members of the community to take care of those who are most at-risk.

Gift a Meal launch at The Smoking Goat

Established in 2007, Feeding San Diego is a leading nonprofit hunger-relief and food rescue organization. Its mission is to connect every person facing hunger with nutritious meals. As part of the organization’s Plating Change Program, TV personality, entrepreneur, advocate, and philanthropist Marcus Lemonis through his Lemon-AID foundation, and San Diego resident and former NBA star Bill Walton and his wife Lori have joined forces. Partnering with a local restaurant, $30,000 in meals have been purchased and are being distributed to the community.

North Park restaurant Encontro has answered the call to prepare 100 meals each Tuesday and Thursday for 10 weeks. Feeding San Diego partner, Salvation Army picks up these meals in a refrigerated van, delivering them to the people that need it most. “The small business community has always been my family,” says Lemonis. “At the end of the day, we believe that feeding people in San Diego is important. Encontro is serving up the plate and allowing us to do that.” 

It’s only natural that Bill Walton, a longtime supporter of Feeding San Diego hunger relief initiatives and a friend of Lemonis’ joined the team. The Plating Change Program is not only an impressive response, it promotes our local restaurants who desperately need the business.

Girl Scout Troop #4978
Meal prep at Encontro
Girl Scout Troop #4978
Meal prep at Encontro

Jason Hotchkiss, chef at Encontro says the reason for their participation is that “this will help the community by feeding people that don’t have food right now. These are scary times and I can’t imagine what it’d be like without the bare necessities.” He explains, “In addition to helping the community, this helps us because it brings up the morale of the team because we’re doing something positive for the community.”

Another Feeding San Diego initiative, Gift a Meal has been added to their Spread Love San Diego campaign. This brilliant initiative is actually the brainchild of Lily Piehl, a 10-year-old San Diego fifth-grader. Lily proposed the plan for her Girl Scout Troop #4978 Bronze Award Project as a way to take care of those facing hunger. 

It just so happens that Lily’s parents, Chef Fred and Tammy Piehl own two North Park restaurants, The Smoking Goat and One Door North. Lily pitched her parents saying “we need to help people in need, help the hungry, and help our businesses because they’ve had a rough year.”

Encontro meal delivery

Tammy says she and Fred immediately loved the idea. “After the second Covid-19 closure, restaurant owners and employees were at a devastating all-time low and our employees were really hurting.” She and Fred viewed Lily and her troop’s initiative as “seeing the community come together and pick each other up. Thankfully,” she adds “people are embracing it.”

Ingredients are provided by local farms and vendors, and unbelievably, Tammy says one vendor who wishes to remain anonymous has agreed to supply all the protein for these meals. 

One Door North meal ready for delivery

On February 18, the cooking began, with each restaurant’s chef selecting the balanced entrees. Once meals are prepared, Feeding San Diego is alerted and a trained MealConnect volunteer driver or community partner picks up the meals and gets them to people in need. Even though the pilot program has just officially launched, 83 meals have already been donated. 

Other restaurants joining One Door North and the Smoking Goat include Carte Blanche Bistro & Bar, George’s at the Cove, Social Tap Eatery, Terra American Bistro, and The Little Lion Café. Guests of these restaurants have the option of adding a $15 charge to their order to purchase a meal that will go directly to food-insecure members of the community.

Meal prep at The Smoking Goat
The crew at the Smoking Goat celebrates their first Gift a Meal launch
Meal prep at The Smoking Goat
The crew at the Smoking Goat celebrates their first Gift a Meal launch
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