OCEANSIDE, Calif. (KGTV) — As the pandemic slams restaurants, a non-profit organization in Oceanside that relies on them found itself on the opposite side of the equation, becoming a lifeline for some eateries and their employees.
"They have one singular focus, which is find a way to keep the doors open and stay alive until help comes," said Mike Perez, the Director of Operations at the O'side Kitchen Collaborative, a nonprofit that works with restaurants to salvage food.
Perez grew up in the restaurant business and has been an owner, giving him a deep understanding of what they're going through.
"I could hear the fear in their voice, the uncertainty, the unknown," said Perez about a stakeholder meeting in March when the closure impacts were being realized. The City of Oceanside and the O'side Kitchen Collaborative responded.
"We basically worked together to create a plan where we could help the local restaurants by purchasing their inventory that otherwise would have been going to waste — which is within our mission — and we can hire some of their staff that was being laid off, to then turn that food, using that staff, to feed the community," he adds.
A staff that included some very talented members of San Diego's food service industry.
"A lot of guys came from local hotels, casinos, and they're used to putting out high quality, high volume food," Perez says.
High volume indeed, the ramp-up in production by the O'side Kitchen was 25-fold.
"We were serving close to 200 meals a day in a corporate catering program," said Perez. "And at one point during the pandemic, we were putting out over 5,000 meals on a daily basis."
The O'side Kitchen then worked with more than 27 other non-profits to deliver those meals, which Perez points out were made with a little something extra.
"To make someone feel human, where it's not just whatever type of food. It's actually delicious, which is, prepared with love, which is our secret ingredient. That makes a huge difference," he said.
And Perez says the effort made another big difference, as so many people have been compelled to lean on and count on each other, they've helped build a stronger community.
For their remarkable work, ABC 10News and LEAD San Diego are proud to recognize the O'side Kitchen Collaborative January's 10News Leadership Award Winner.
If you'd like to nominate a person or organization for this recognition, let us know about them here.