Chef Edith Jerald moves from station to station as her staff prepares more than 100 meals to be distributed for lunch. Salads on one side. Sandwiches on the other. Downstairs, another team is about to arrive to deliver the meals across Birmingham.
It’s an idea that started on a front porch last spring.
Lee Taylor works on Regions Bank’s Community Affairs team. Her husband, Jeff, also works for the bank. His focus is keeping customers’ accounts safe from fraud. At the end of the day, they come together on the porch and focus on each other – how their days went, how the family is doing, and how they can help others.
The Taylors are volunteers with the Community Food Bank, connecting those in need with nutritious meals. Soon, the Taylors saw how they, and Regions, could do more.
“We know some people have less access to food during the pandemic. In fact, the need is bigger than before,” Lee explained. “We thought this was a way to help. We had community partners we worked with we could help. And we had Chef Edith’s team, who wanted to get back to work.”
Chef Edith’s kitchen is at Regions’ headquarters. But with so many people working from home these days, there hadn’t been as many people to feed.
So, Lee Taylor reached out to Leroy Abrahams, Regions’ head of Community Affairs. She shared with him her idea. Then he talked to Chef Edith.
“Leroy and I had a great conversation about something we could do as a team,” Jerald said. “We could get back to work, doing what we loved, and our team could, in turn, help others. So, I worked out the details to do this safely and brought my team back in to get started.”
Now, Jerald’s kitchen is back in action. Each Tuesday and Thursday, she and her team cook incredible food. Then, it’s time to serve. One hundred meals to The Foundry Mission on Tuesdays. Another 100 to Positive Maturity on Thursdays. And 20 meals, twice a week, to Maranathan Academy.
We do what we do because we love what we do.
Chef Edith Jerald
“This is my passion,” Taylor said. “Each week, we’re feeding people in recovery, as well as seniors and students. We meet up in the parking deck, and the dining staff is always on time, ready for us to make the deliveries. We have a system down, and it runs seamlessly.”
Over the last three months, these dining room heroes have made 43 trips, delivering 3,430 free meals. The meal deliveries are scheduled through, at least, the end of October.
In Bessemer, between Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, The Foundry helps hundreds of families each year through their addiction recovery programs.
“When you donate to the Foundry, you’re not only supporting a worthy charity, you’re keeping a family together, you’re saving a life, and you’re helping families have their loved ones home for the holidays,” said Foundry CEO Micah Andrews.
Amid a global pandemic, Regions’ weekly meal donations proved to be a Godsend.
“Regions is way more than a banking partner to us,” Andrews added. “Regions stepped in and have helped us through these months in real, tangible ways by providing meals and much more.”
Positive Maturity focuses on enhancing the lives of older adults through social services and civic engagement. According to Executive Director Penny Kakoliris, senior companion volunteers work 20-30 hours a week by visiting other seniors at home.
“Our senior companion volunteers are low-income individuals who volunteer in the community, allowing other seniors to remain independent,” Kakoliris said. “But since COVID-19 hit, they haven’t been able to go into homes like before.”
That’s also meant normal stipends, as well as mileage and meal reimbursements, have been limited, creating extra financial burdens. But the 100 weekly Regions meals have a positive impact on Positive Maturity’s most isolated, at-risk seniors.
“These free meals are a treat — something they know is nutritious and yummy,” Kakoliris said. “It’s not only feeding their bodies and souls; it’s providing them social interaction they otherwise have missed. It’s truly been a blessing for our senior companions.”
In Birmingham, The Maranathan Academy serves critically at-risk youth. The impact of COVID-19 has been devastating to the school family, said Executive Director Donna Dukes.
“Among the family members in our circle of students, faculty and staff, we’ve lost 38 people to COVID,” Dukes shared.
Thus, providing nutrition to students safely is critical.
“Access to healthy lunches is of primary importance at Maranathan Academy – and can be quite an expense,” Dukes said. “The lunches from Regions provide our students well-balanced, nutritious meals. In giving, Regions lets them know someone cares about their well-being. The smiles on their faces when they receive their lunches say it all.”
For Abrahams, Taylor and the Community Affairs team, lunches provide an opportunity to build deeper relationships, and make a greater difference, with community partners.
“We’ve spread the joy to three different groups, of three different ages,” Taylor said. “We not only helped them, but we helped our own associates who are so proud of what they are doing.”
For Jerald and her dining room heroes, the meals offered a reason to get back to work – work that also includes daily meals for the smaller number of Regions associates currently commuting to the office.
“We do what we do because we love what we do,” Jerald said. “And that’s only reinforced when you hear back about the impact your meals make.”