By Steve Elder & Nancy Varekamp | CNA Media Team
The pandemic that made it difficult for restaurants to serve customers at indoor tables didn’t deter a local restaurant from arranging delivery of meals. Free.
Beginning with Thanksgiving dinners and through mid-February, Jinx had sent 3,300 free meals to houseless camps and to homes occupied by what Jinx owner Courtney Hulbert-Lords describes as deserving families.
Her employees cook four days each week for at least one weekly meal distribution. “Every other week it’s a hot cook that we actually serve out of our door to our customers and to anyone who wants to stop by,” she said. “It’s free and they contribute if they like.”
The weeks in between are spent preparing free meal kits with almost-cooked and/or reheatable items. Holiday meals call for special treats. The Thanksgiving meals included hot chocolate. Christmas meals offered dough and Santa cookie cutters.
“We’re continuing to do what we’re best at, providing awesome experiences to our community,” Courtney explained. “It’s what we do.”
As with any kitchen, there are leftovers – and Jinx sometimes uses those to help stock free fridges scattered across the communities.
Courtney, her brother and another partner opened Jinx at 30th Avenue and Killingsworth Street two years ago as a family-friendly bistro with a Cajun-inspired menu and community experiences like brunch, trivia/bingo night, karaoke, LGBT dances, pinball leagues and more.
When dining indoors at restaurants fell victim to the COVID-19 pandemic, Jinx moved its fare to sidewalk tables and pick-up orders. In November, after the weather had turned ornery, Courtney closed the restaurant with a promise to re-open this spring.
“But I knew emergency unemployment insurance would expire after Christmas, so it wasn’t an option for me to lay my employees off before Christmas.
“We closed our doors to do our part to keep the community safe, but it didn’t feel like enough. We had this building – a place for community, a place for laughter, good food, good times – sitting empty,” she explained on Facebook.
“We decided it was the best course to use our skills to try to fill the gaps between what the dedicated organizations and individuals – that have been feeding our communities for generations – can provide and the overwhelming need for support right now.
“We are here to humbly support the ongoing fight for food justice. We want to continue to deliver all the things we got into this industry for. The love of community. The love of food.”
Courtney plans to make good on the promise to re-open this spring but has no plans to abandon preparing the free meals.
In fact, she has applied for 501(c)(3) status to continue raising funds for the free meals. The charitable enterprise is dubbed “On the House.”
So far, Jinx has been able to keep the kitchen staff employed while supplying free meals with donations – of finances and food – plus a federal Economic Injury Disaster Loan.
Courtney welcomes more donations – food, finances and knowledge. “We would love any ideas and contacts to help with our new mission.”
Steve Elder is an inactive lawyer, a developer, activist and old grouch. Nancy Varekamp is semiretired from her career in journalism, public relations and – her favorite work engagement – writing and editing targeted newsletters.