Nov 25, 2022
Before the pandemic, The Underground Kitchen was known for its glamorous, sold-out, $150-per-plate dinners from top chefs in secret locations.
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Before the pandemic, The Underground Kitchen was known for its glamorous, sold-out, $150-per-plate dinners from top chefs in secret locations.
But when the pandemic closed down bars and restaurants, UGK was shuttered, too.
“For weeks, we didn’t know what we were going to do. We had refrigerators full of food and folks who couldn’t work. We decided we were going to make meals for anyone in Richmond,” founder Micheal Sparks said. “Whatever your socio or economic background was, you could have a free meal. We wanted to spread a little love in the city.”
During its first week, UGK delivered 175 meals to the public. They began working with agencies around the city to deliver meals to the food-insecure and poverty-stricken areas in the city, especially in the East End.
Now, UGK has served more than 225,000 meals to those in need and launched its nonprofit arm, The Underground Kitchen Community First Meals Program.
“This is a community facing high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease. We wanted to introduce healthy, chef-prepared, organic, free-range food that is tasty and that can make people feel better,” Sparks said.
In 2021, more than 34 million people, including 9 million children, faced food insecurity, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Families in low-income urban areas often live in “food deserts” with limited access to a grocery store, which makes it harder to access healthy food. Now, with inflation, grocery stories prices have soared 13.5% in August from the year before, the highest annual increase in over 40 years, according to government data, making it even harder for low-income families to access healthy food.
Food insecurity can lead to the health risks Sparks mentioned: Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and obesity. Black communities experience hunger, poverty and unemployment at much higher rates than white communities, according to Feeding America, a domestic hunger relief organization. In 2021, nearly 20% of Black individuals lived in a food-insecure household. Black people are almost three times as likely to face hunger as white people.
“There’s no one doing fresh, prepared, organic food for this community. That’s why we stepped in,” Sparks said.
On a recent morning at a tiny church called Faith Covenant Christian Fellowship in Richmond’s East End near Mosby Court, UGK’s Community First Meals Program dropped off more than 100 fresh soups.