by Craig Smith | photos by Sarah Anne Risk
Wendi Moore has a lot of people depending on her. Since 2018, she’s served as the Napa Community Engagement Coordinator for Abode Services, the nonprofit that runs the South Napa Shelter for adults experiencing homelessness, and it is her job to provide lunch for 60 people, five days a week. She admits that, when she started, she was at a bit of a loss about how to pull that off. So, she asked a friend for help.
“Todd Humphries and I are friends (he’s the chef and one of the owners of The Kitchen Door,) so I sat down with him,” she said. He immediately said he could prepare and deliver meals one day a month. He also offered to call other restaurant owners to get more help.”
Humphries also discussed the project with one of his partners, Tim Seberson, who immediately agreed that the Kitchen Door should help. “There are a lot of hungry people out there, man,” said Seberson. He said he and Todd used to make sandwiches for the folks they would see around town, but both men recognized that Moore’s proposition would be a much more effective way to help. “Todd asked me if he thought we could pull it off, but we both knew we’d do whatever we had to do to make it happen.”
One of the first people Humphries invited to join in the effort was Ken Frank, chef owner of La Toque and BANK Café and Grill in the Westin. When Moore followed up with a call to Frank, asking for his support, his answer surprised her. “Wendi, we wouldn’t be talking if I wasn’t already in. How can I help?” Frank agreed to doing two meals a week. “I was shocked at how willing both chefs were, and how quickly they stepped up,” said Moore.
Humphries and Frank each made more calls to other restaurant owners, and in no time Angele, Oenotri, Napa Palisades and Aroma Indian Cuisine all said yes. When he heard about the program, Darioush Khaledi, founder of Darioush Winery called and offered to provide meals as well. A little more than a year ago, Frank emailed Filippi’s owner Tom Finch, who has been supporting nonprofits since he opened the restaurant in 2005. “I said yes right away. I mean, it’s the right thing to do,” said Finch. He prepares homestyle meals, “You know, the stuff you used to get at Grandma’s house.” Asked what it cost to provide that many meals, Tom just smiled. “It costs a lot less than it pays in gratitude to be able to do it. We’ll be part of this as long as they need us.”
Moore was beyond pleased at how well things were going. And then, the pandemic hit. Besides all the other consequences of that, the number of people depending on meals at the shelter swelled from 60 to 75 a day. And the restaurants that were supporting the project? Virtually all were forced to close.
“Almost overnight, we had no restaurant partners and even more people to feed. I almost panicked.” Instead, she called her now-friend Frank, and asked for advice. “I’ll tell you what, Wendi. I’ve got over a 100 people on staff who depend on us for a living. We’ll provide all five meals for you, every day, until this is all over. That will help us keep our folks on staff as well as keeping you going.” Moore couldn’t believe what she was hearing.
Frank said some of the food for the program comes from the Food Bank, and he is able to pick up protein from occasional oversupplies. His commitment is that meals are nutritious and delicious, and he decided to do some fund raising to make sure he could deliver on that. Abode offered to handle the funding. “I think they expected that we’d raise a few hundred, maybe a thousand dollars,” said Frank. “They didn’t have any idea how generous a community this is.” In fact, he raised $25,000 in just two weeks. “I see it as ‘Benevolent Capital.’ The folks at Abode were blown away by our local generosity.”
The Napa Farmers Market also has a Shopping for the Shelter program. Customers there can donate money, 100% of which goes towards fresh Market produce for the Shelter program.
For Frank, the program goes beyond feeding people. “People who have lunch at the Shelter also have access to social services at the same location. This program helps people get off the street.” Frank does his best to exceed everyone’s expectations. “We always send dessert. It gets people amped up because they don’t expect it.
Today, with the pandemic in the rearview mirror, the Shelter program is in full swing with all their restaurant partners. “We live in such an amazing community,” said Moore. “I am so grateful to live and work here.”