Monday, July 1, 2024

With larger new kitchen, EVLovesNYC expands to feed more New Yorkers

Photos and reporting by Stacie Joy 

After an extended search, mutual aid group EVLovesNYC has found a kitchen space that fits its growing organization and mission. 

EVLovesNYC recently began cooking every Sunday at Rethink Food's state-of-the-art community kitchen at 116 W. Houston St. between Thompson and Sullivan. (Rethink Food is a nonprofit "creating a more sustainable and equitable food system by working in partnership with a network of local restaurants, community-based organizations, and food donors.") 

According to organizers, the move allows EVLovesNYC to scale up production numbers and expand its reach throughout NYC while maintaining its Sunday meals in the East Village, Tompkins Square Park, and with regular distribution partners throughout the city. 

The volunteer-run group's modest origins date back to spring 2020 when a handful of friends got together to prepare meals for neighbors from a small East Village apartment kitchen. 

Early on, Ali Sahin, the owner of C&B Cafe on Seventh Street, donated his kitchen on Mondays so the group could cook its meals. By June 2020, they had outgrown the space and started assembling deliveries at the Sixth Street Community Center between Avenue B and Avenue C. 

More than four years and 500,000 meals later, EVLovesNYC is still preparing meals — beef, chicken and vegan, made with attention to allergens and religious practices — for distribution.

I spoke with Tyler Hefferon (below right), EVLovesNYC's executive director, about the group's new kitchen and how it impacts its mission.
You've been looking for one for a while now. How did this come about? What is your agreement for using the Rethink space? 

We were put in touch with Matt Jozwiak [founder and CEO] of Rethink Food through East Village Neighbors Who Care. This mutual aid group receives hot meals from both EVLovesNYC and Rethink Food to support the number of clinics and services they offer to asylum seekers. 

After a short call with the Rethink team, we discussed EVLovesNYC using Rethink Food's new Community Kitchen on the weekends. Their staff is usually only active in the space Monday through Friday, and we have full access to their kitchen and equipment on Sundays. 

You’ve been in the new space for a few weeks now. How has it been cooking in the new kitchen? 

Like any new kitchen, there has been some getting used to the new layout, but in general, we are excited about the number of cooking surfaces, which will significantly increase the speed at which we can produce meals!

At the Sixth Street Community Center, we have been limited to six stovetop burners and a five-rack convection oven, capping us at around 2,500 meals per day. To put it in perspective, we now have 24 stovetop burners, a griddle, two deep fryers, four gas-powered ovens, and a tilt skillet at our disposal. Not to mention a loading dock for our distribution partners to pick up meals, an additional 800 square feet of prep and meal-assembly space, and a refrigerated compost room. 

Our core volunteer team worked in small groups in June as we familiarized ourselves with the space, but we are excited to open the space to online volunteer signups on July 7.
Will you continue to use the space at Sixth Street Community Center? 

Yes. Our lease was up for renewal, and we were unable to afford the increased cost of the space. In an effort to continue our partnership, we signed a three-month agreement effective July 1 with a less drastic increase, but with an understanding that we would cap our production at the Sixth Street Community Center to 1,300 meals per week so that they may lease the kitchen to other organizations. 

While this forces us to cut our Sunday operations, we still plan on using the space for smaller events throughout the week. 

Will you still be doing distributions in the East Village? If so, what are the dates, times and locations? 

We will be sending hot meals from our new kitchen every Sunday from noon to 2 p.m. in an effort to not disrupt our food distribution in front of the Sixth Street Community Center and Tompkins Square Park every Sunday from 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. 

We will also continue supporting East Village Neighbors Who Care's services during the week, including the Free Store at Hope Church every other Monday from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., and services at St. Mark's Church in-the-Bowery every Wednesday from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. 

We are also working with Rethink Food to add additional distributions in Tompkins Square Park on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday afternoons. 

The new industrial kitchen is enormous. Does this increase the quantity of food you can produce? What about types of cuisines? 

Yes! We are proceeding with caution as we get acclimated to the logistics of the new space and have a better sense of what quantities we can handle financially, but our real-estate situation had been the major cap to our meal production every Sunday.

Realistically, we will start increasing our quantities to support additional distributions around the city starting in October. If we can figure out how to make it happen financially, we could gradually increase our production to 4,000-5,000 individually packaged hot meals every Sunday. 

The new equipment, such as the fryers and tilt skillet, absolutely opens doors to new cuisines. As we familiarize ourselves with all of the fancy prep equipment, we can eventually incorporate new complexities into our recipes that we've been avoiding just to be efficient with our volunteer prep team's time.
How can the community support EVLovesNYC going forward? 

As exciting as doubling our meal counts sounds, we hope that our fundraising can keep up to pace! If you are in a position to donate to our kitchen warming fund, do so here

Watch for July volunteer shifts [link here] if you want to join us at the new kitchen. 

There is nothing more valuable than spreading the word and sharing our work and mission within your network. Any interaction with our social media accounts helps our visibility exponentially. You never know who may be able to help.
[Co-founder Mammad Mahmoodi]
Previously on EV Grieve


Anonymous said...

Kudos to all those wonderful folks who donate their time, energies and efforts to help others.

Anonymous said...

So happy that EVLovesNYC found a new, bigger home to keep cooking for NYC!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful news