Podcast

Episode: 310 |
Kim Calichio:
Feeding a Community:
Episode
310

HOW TO THRIVE AS AN
INDEPENDENT PROFESSIONAL

Kim Calichio

Feeding a Community

Show Notes

Kim Calichio is a chef and educator.

When the pandemic shut down NYC, she realized there were many New Yorkers who would not be eligible for government assistance and who would be going hungry.

She set up Lifelife Grocery, which buys groceries from wholesale restaurant suppliers and involves volunteers to pack and deliver the groceries to 700 families per week.

You can support this effort and feed a family for $35 per week by donating here:

https://www.gofundme.com/f/lifeline-food-packages-for-families

Visit the website for Kim’s firm, The Connected Chef, here:

https://theconnectedchef.com/

One weekly email with bonus materials and summaries of each new episode:

Will Bachman 00:01
Hello, and welcome to Unleashed the show that explores how to thrive as an independent professional. If you’ve thought about setting up your own independent consulting practice, visit umbrex.com. And check on the link. Set up your own firm, we have a guide with 90 videos, and 30 templates you can download on how to get started. I’m Will Bachman. And I’m here today with Kim collegio, who is the founder of the connected chef Kim, welcome to the show. Thanks for having me. Well, Kim, give me a little bit of an overview of pre COVID of the business model of connected chef of the what it is your firm does.

Kim Calichio 00:44
Absolutely. So the connected chef pre COVID was an organization that focused mainly on educational services in the culinary world. We did cooking classes and gardening classes for both kids and adults and really aim to connect families through food and use food as a medium to bring people together both with themselves their community and have a better relationship with food overall.

Will Bachman 01:15
Yeah, so can you give me what are some the discreet service lines that you had? So is that like one on one instruction? Or would you do you know, parties or small groups? Or was it in people’s homes or in classrooms? Give me a description of the types of offerings you have?

Kim Calichio 01:34
Sure. So we did group classes for children where we would offer cooking and gardening classes for ages two to 12. And then we also did private individual classes for adults as well. We offered family classes. And then we offered group adult classes that really focused on method and technique of cooking, which meant that we taught people how to cook with their senses. And we taught people how to braise and sear and utilize their ingredients without following the recipe. And those classes were our main services that we offered. After that we also did workshops and some private dining and private workshops as well. And what was your path

Will Bachman 02:23
before that? Did you know? Have you worked in restaurants or kind of what was your path leading up to the setting up the connected chef,

Kim Calichio 02:32
I all the way back. I was a student of psychology. And I was focused on public health. And then I went into the restaurant business and I became a restaurant chef for about 11 years, and really gained much of my skill set in the kitchen in the professional restaurant industry in New York City. After I became a mom, I left the restaurant industry. And that’s when I started to connect with chess.

Will Bachman 03:04
Since COVID, has has hit us difficult, obviously to do in person classes. Have you shifted to any kind of online offering?

Kim Calichio 03:15
Yep, yeah. So after COVID, we quickly shifted to virtual offerings. All of our classes and workshops that we offered were in person, part of what set our classes apart was the energy that we brought in, during our classes. So it was interesting to make that shift to a virtual platform and see the adjustment that was needed. We did that within the first few weeks of the outbreak here in New York City. And we still offer virtual offerings, currently, but then we also shifted to more of a service for food relief our community here in Queens.

Will Bachman 03:54
Yeah. Tell me about that.

Kim Calichio 03:57
Yeah, so our food Relief Program, that initiative began at the end of March. It was started with my husband and I trying to think about how we can support our community. We knew very clearly that there were 1000s of families. You not even just to get out of work because of the restaurant industry. But just in general, who we’re now out of work and didn’t qualify for any unemployment or any other sufficient government aid. And we wanted to make sure that we served those families specifically.

Will Bachman 04:30
Yeah, so what did you do?

Kim Calichio 04:32
So we began Lifeline grocery. And Lifeline grocery is our way of bringing healthy nutrient dense groceries to families and Queens. We knew a few things we knew that we were restaurant chefs, my husband is also a restaurant chef. So we had specific skills and doing things really efficiently and quickly. The connected chefs had the business structure to be able to To order from restaurant purveyors, who are companies that typically would send food to the restaurant industry across New York City, and since the restaurants were out of work, and many of them were shut down, these purveyors had a lot of food that they didn’t know where to send. So we were able to do a few things. We started a GoFundMe account. And we began raising money. Within a week, we were able to raise over $10,000 for our initiative. And then we started opening accounts with different restaurant purveyors across New York City, so that we can order wholesale low cost foods for our grocery bags. And we wanted to make sure that every grocery bag was really healthy, that we weren’t including meals, that we’re just going to add to a bigger problem. We really wanted to give folks ingredients that they deserved ingredients that they were able to cook with. And that kept them strong during a time during health crisis. So things like grains, and legumes, a lot of fruits and vegetables. And we also put in eggs, milk and chicken in there as well. So that was the basis of everything. And we really started with 30 families, our first week where we would order enough food for 30 grocery bags, we recruited volunteer drivers who would direct deliver the grocery bags to families. That was something that was also very important, because of the pandemic, people were having a really hard time standing in line at food banks or different places, they couldn’t go out to the grocery store, if they were sick. So they were stuck. So we wanted to make sure that what we were doing was bringing the food directly to them in a safe way. So we developed a contactless delivery method. We had a handful of volunteer delivery drivers, and we would deliver direct deliver the groceries to each family. And we started with 30 families in the first week, and now we’re up to over 700 Weekly, which was pretty amazing.

Will Bachman 07:19
Wow, that’s an incredible number. Yeah. So I’m curious to hear some of the details around this. First, let’s talk about restaurant purveyors. Yeah. How much? I’m curious about the pricing of restaurant purveyors? Like how much of a discount is it? versus if you go to the grocery store? Could you give me some examples? You know, a dozen eggs or you know, yeah, you know, 10 pounds of potatoes? Like, what’s the price difference if you go to the grocery store versus a restaurant purveyor?

Kim Calichio 07:49
Yeah, definitely. So, for example, apples, if you were to buy an apple at the grocery store, it’s going to cost you at least 50 cents for a single apple. Typically, if you go to order in bulk from a restaurant provider, you can get a case of 120 apples for about 3025 to $30, depending on the provider. So it’s pennies, like it’s to be able to give families four apples, it’s still less than buying one at the at the grocery store. So the quality is also really good. So we’re able to pick ingredients that are high quality and will last for a while, as opposed to some organizations will rescue food. And then the quality of the food becomes questionable of how long it’s been sitting out. And when is it going to go bad? Where this food is really high end? I mean, it’s not high end it’s just fresh like everybody else in the world wants to be

Will Bachman 09:01
can you give us some other examples of of sort of prices at the bulk level and the kind of the quantities that you need to buy like, if you want to buy Yeah, flour, you know, do you have to buy it and 50 pound bags or if you buying potatoes is like 50 pound bags or 100 pound bags or something? I’m curious like what it is like buying from a restaurant purveyor.

Kim Calichio 09:21
Yes, definitely. So the what? There’s two options in terms of dry ingredients from a restaurant purveyor. You can buy things that are already pre packaged, especially now post COVID. A lot of a lot of companies are stocking those kinds of things. Which makes life easier but for us, we’ve decided to buy bulk dry goods so that means like 25 pound bags of rice, 20 pound bags of lentils. Beans are coming in a 25 pound bag. And then what we do is we have volunteers repackage those ingredients into one pound packaging, so that saves us tremendously. So pasta, a 25 pound bag of pasta is about 19 to $20. For black beans, similarly, a 25 pound bag of black beans is about 20 to $21 for the bag, so it saves a lot of money in it save by being able to have volunteers to do the repackaging, it saves us a lot of money for the dry goods, that’s one of the most expensive things that we purchase is the the grains and the legumes. Eggs and chicken are also vastly cheaper. For a whole chicken at your supermarket, you’re going to pay anywhere between eight to $13 depending on the quality brand, if it’s organic or not. And that’s usually a two and a half to three pound chicken. So that’s like $6 a pound maybe for a restaurant purveyor, we can get two and a half pound chickens for $1.19 a pound. So they’re under $5 a chicken. So it’s it’s a big, big difference. And then for eggs, another example of that would be a typical, even non organic doesn’t have eggs is at least $3. at the supermarket, we’re getting them for $1 a dozen. And those are packaged into into like a dozen package. So and but the difference is we’re buying 700 dozen of eggs, right? So the pricing is more flexible, because we’re getting so much of it. And when we were only getting 30, we were only doing 30 families in the beginning, our pricing was a little bit higher, it was still much lower. But we were paying about $1.30 for eggs. Whereas now we’re getting like $1 a dozen, which is amazing. So those are just some examples. And with that, we’ve been able to keep the cost of our grocery bag down to $35. A bag. So people are getting fed for the week. That’s another thing to remember about these bags is it’s enough food in there to feed a family for the whole week. We’re not giving them just enough food for a couple of days. And we’ve been able to do check ins with our family to see how they’re doing and to see if in fact, we are giving them enough. And we’ve gotten really great feedback and heard that we we are in fact, there was one group of families who were families of five who were feeling like they actually weren’t getting enough. So with our check ins, we were able to adjust that and give them a bit more each week. And that’s been really wonderful. But everybody is getting based on the number of people in their household. So if you have a family of three in your house, you’re getting enough groceries for three people for the week. If you have a family of eight, you’re not going to get the same bat as that family of three, you’re going to get a much larger bag to make it through the week.

Will Bachman 13:19
Yeah. What Tell me what’s in what’s in a bag for a family of, let’s say four people what’s what’s in a bag.

Kim Calichio 13:26
Yeah, so you get two to three pounds of grains and legumes which we rotate between rice, beans, pasta and lentils. Typically we’ve also added in kilowatt based on some donations that we’ve gotten. But that’s typically the the variety of grains and legumes that we offer. And then we do about six different types of vegetables two to three different types of fruits. And then we give half a gallon of milk to families who drink cow milk, and then a dozen eggs with that. And the fruit and vegetables. It varies every week. Some examples of things that we’ve given in bags in the past our onions, carrots, string beans, eggplants, potatoes, sweet potatoes, fruits, we often do bananas, we do oranges and apples, we’ve done pears. What we try to do when we’re picking the ingredients for the bag, or what we do do when we pick the ingredients for the bag is picking ingredients that we know will last a while so they won’t go bad really fast. We’re not going to give people like rucola because it’s going to weld quickly. So more root vegetables hearty ingredients that will last a while both in your fridge and out. We’re also choosing ingredients or vegetables specifically that can be used in different ways. You can make a variety of different meals with carrots and onions and, and our families that we’re serving know that. So we’re giving them that purposefully. And then we also want to make sure that we’re choosing really high nutrient dense ingredients. So as instead of giving white potatoes will give sweet potatoes. That which is a perfect example of there’s just much more, there’s much more nutrients in that ingredient. So we want to make sure that we’re always just not giving the bare minimum, and we’re really offering a really healthy variety to folks.

Will Bachman 15:37
Can you describe for me, the kind of paint the scene for me the physical location of where all this food is getting delivered, and how it’s getting bagged into 700 bags, that sounds like it would need a pretty substantial like place to be sorting it and packing it and shipping it out.

Kim Calichio 15:57
Yeah, so we have been gifted a space at the plexal Gallery in Long Island City plexal and culture lab, li si are a nonprofit organization that really work also to serve their community. And we’ve gratefully been able to put up a house, essentially a mobile house, at their space in Long Island City. Currently, we’re working now that it’s summertime in their parking lot area. And we put up a bunch of different tents. And we have lots of tables that we get put out. And it’s a great place because it’s wide open. So especially when we were working in April, when COVID was, you know, it was dangerous to be outside your house and to be working with other people. It was important to us that we had an outside open space for that reason. Because we didn’t want to be in close quarters, we wanted to make sure everybody had enough room between themselves when they were working. So it’s been really wonderful to have that opportunity. So trucks will come in the morning, actually, tomorrow is our distribution day on Wednesdays. So the trucks will come into the parking lot. And they’re often like box trucks or smaller tractor trailer type trucks, and they unload all of their food in on pallets, which are like large wooden squares. And there’s cases of cases of all the different things that we’ve we’ve received. And once they unload it, we have at least 10 to 15 volunteers who are there and ready. And we have tables set up. And essentially what we do is we line the tables in the center with the different produce. And we’ll say, you know, we’ll start with the heart of vegetables on one end, and we’ll head to the softer things on the other side. So for example, like potatoes and onions will be at the beginning of the line. And then bananas and string beans will be at the end of the line. So we we order them specifically to make sure that when they’re in the bag, they’re not getting squished. And then people are separated down that line of tables, which is probably about I would say 20 feet long altogether, from start to end. And we pick up a bag we make an assembly line and we’ll put in the grains and rice and we’ll put in the different vegetables and the different fruits. And then there’s somebody at the end who’s quote unquote running the food when you’re in a restaurant. There’s the kitchen staff who makes the food there’s a runner who brings it to the front of the house and serves it along with the waiter and as my husband and I are not the only restaurant industry people in this operation. There’s a lot of our volunteer packers are also out of work restaurant chefs or cooks. And so that’s the language that we speak so when I say runner, that is the person who is bringing the grocery finish grocery bag from the line to an area that we’ve designated where we line up all of the grocery bags that are going to get ready for delivery. And then we also we keep the eggs and milk out of the bags and we keep them refrigerated. And we also put tortillas a package of tortillas in the bag at the end as well. And then our delivery drivers are staggered in time when they show up so we have up to 46 delivery drivers that arrive to deliver out the food that we’re we’re packaging. Once the bags are done then a delivery driver shows up With their designated time, we have already at that point given them a route of families that they’re responsible for delivering to, we check off their name, we pass them their printed route, and we pack up their car, and then off they go. And they deliver the food directly to each family. That’s kind of start to finish.

Will Bachman 20:23
What technology, if any, are you using to coordinate all this effort? So it’s not so bad to do 30? families, perhaps but 700 families? are, you know, are you using like, a Google Sheet or something more sophisticated? How are you keeping track of all the new families and the drivers and assigning one to the other and checking off that they got sent out and was received? Tell us a little bit about just the management of all this?

Kim Calichio 20:51
Yeah, that’s a such a great question. And something that I have had to create a team around myself for because it’s not my strongest area of expertise. We originally started with a Google form, which is how we were able to have family sign up, we created a Google forum and sent it out in our community, and they registered. So that went directly into a spreadsheet, we have now been able to move over to air table, which is a newer platform that has a lot more capabilities in terms of spreadsheets, and how spreadsheets go. We also for routing our for routing, the families and the different routes that we’re giving out to our delivery drivers, we use a program called route XL. And what that does is we’re able to just input the addresses, and then it automatically creates a like trucking route essentially for them, and shows them the best and most efficient way to go about that route. But that was there was a lot of learning curve and all of that, because it wasn’t something that we did regularly, like I never routed a truck before. So in the beginning, it was like, Okay, we have and thankfully we still I mean, we started with 30 families, but then we in the next week, we jumped to 100, and then 200. So we scaled really fast, because we knew how much need there was. So it one of my one of my strong points is that I learned really quickly. Right. So that was that was put into really good use. And I was that, like I was called to have to figure out how to order these addresses. That was one of the really time consuming things. And I had days where I was sitting in front of my computer for hours, ordering all of the addresses that we had for our families to make sure that our delivery routes were as streamlined as possible, because we didn’t want people going all over the place. So at first it was it was no use of technology. And it was really nice saying okay, we have families in Corona, we’re going to put them together. We have families in Elmhurst, we’re going to put them together. And then Okay, we have these families. Luckily, Queens is is number based in terms of our streets. So I was able to just because I live here, have a better sense of like what addresses go close together, and group them. And then when we started using route Excel, I was able to put that also do that like initial grouping, and then just put the addresses into that platform. And they were able to order it for me, which was fabulous. But we have a whole team of admins behind the scenes who are supporting the work that’s happening on the day of and on the ground. And that’s really important to know and recognize because there’s so many moving pieces. And there’s so many things that need to happen for the other things to happen. that it takes a lot of us we have six admins who are amazing in the work that they’re doing. We have lead volunteers who are taking control of focusing on all of our verification volunteers, all of our delivery driver volunteers, all of our packing volunteers. So we have we have point people for that. We have my husband has taken on the operations of everything because that is he is like the ultimate restaurant chef so he does all the ordering. He makes sure the day of is going as efficiently and smoothly as possible. And now we’re in the process of bringing together a fundraising team and a source Same team, so that we’re able to ensure that the program is sustainable over time. And we’re also able to make sure that we’re making best choices in terms of where we’re getting our food. Yeah, because now that we’re a little bit more established, that is shifting a bit.

Will Bachman 25:18
Speaking of fundraising, what’s the weekly, you know, spend now, and where’s the money coming from? Yeah, so it’s definitely, originally it was community based or community based donations, it was everyday people giving, you know, anywhere from $10 to $500. And that really got us up and going, that has very much slowed, which we knew would happen. And it was was expected, we were able to get to grants through avenues here in the city, which was really helpful and has kept the work going over the last six weeks or so. And we’re also now working on larger contributions from other organizations or individual contributors who are looking to support the work that we’re doing. We have filed for our nonprofit status, our 501 c three. So we’re in the process of getting that done. But it takes a little while. So we’re not nonprofit, established nonprofit yet, which puts us in this funny in between space in terms of both raising money and being able to write grants. So our solution to that has been to collaborate with other groups here in Queens. And one of our major partners is a story in mutual aid group. And they are fiscally sponsored. And they, so they support us as a food initiative for queens, both financially and with volunteers. For the most part, but you know, that kind of work and the fundraising, where at 700 families a week, but we also have over 800 families who are waiting for a package from us that we haven’t been able to serve yet. So while we’re sustaining ourselves in the growth that we’ve created, so far, there’s so many more families who still even though the city is opening up a bit, who are still struggling, and who still really need support, and who deserve healthy groceries to be able to cook for their families. So the fight is by far over. And that is we’re just beginning into that area of expanding how we’re fundraising, and how we’re able to bring in finances for this program. You mentioned that the typical bag is around $35 for the groceries. So just a little simple napkin math 700 families that looks like it’s around $25,000 a week, in terms of groceries that you’re that you’re distributing. That’s pretty impressive. How does this compare in terms of cost to you more traditional food security type programs like food stamps, I mean, you know, in terms of being able to feed an entire family, do food stamps, you know, cost more or less than $35 a week.

Kim Calichio 28:38
So families typically foods, families who are on food stamps or on SNAP benefits, they are insufficient and supporting a family for for a month’s worth of food. So typically a family on SNAP benefits will get anywhere between 100 to like 300 is a really high estimate, I don’t even think they would get that much. It’s more around, it’s more around 75 to $150, I think is the average, which is not enough. I mean, if you go food shopping, I go food shopping for my family of four. And at the grocery store, we spend at least $120. And that’s it like Trader Joe’s which is really cheap. And that’s and that’s me knowing how to cook and like utilize all these ingredients. So food costs for typical family is what these or families who are receiving SNAP benefits are getting for a month or you know, so so it’s insufficient. The other thing is that the families we’re serving are not families who typically qualify for a like I said earlier, unemployment benefits. They also because of immigration status, and other things are very much nervous to ask for help from the government. So whether it’s them not asking or them not qualifying, they don’t end up taking advantage of the same services that I might look to take advantage of. And so they’re left with less. And I think that that is really important when talking about when comparing us to other other services, because this community doesn’t necessarily have access to those other things. In terms of, of price points, there, the quality of the food is also a big factor, too. So there are school food initiatives that have been around for quite some time and who have expanded in response to COVID. But the quality of the food that you get through those school food programs are not what we feel is what people deserve. They’re not getting the same fresh ingredients. And they’re not getting the same portion, it’s a smaller portion as well.

Will Bachman 31:22
What are you hoping to do going forward with with the program or in terms of scaling it or in terms of the number of families that you would hope to serve? Yeah.

Kim Calichio 31:34
So what originally, when we started the program, we, we were thinking to be able to get to as many people as we can, so to speak. And we originally said that folks would come onto the program, we’d serve them for two weeks, and then we move on to the next. And we realized really fast that what we wanted to be doing was eliminate food insecurity for families, because that’s what really mattered. So we quickly shifted to let families know that if you’re in our program, you’re going to stay in our program until you no longer need it. And that’s allowed us to have a larger impact in the community that we’re serving. So our goal is really to continue that work and to ensure that families in Queens are no longer worrying about where their food is coming from. So then they have a greater opportunity, or a greater agency over themselves to be able to figure out other issues that they’re having. And be able to find work and be able to get back on their feet, we have been given a donation again, by plexal Gallery of a new space, actually, that we’re going to be begin packing out of, and this is going to be kind of our home base, where we’re going to build this out, have cold storage units there so that we can store food over time. And with the goal of being able to expand the program by another 500 families so that we’re able to go ahead and continue to serve the quality that we’re giving, but in a larger or more expanded group of neighborhoods.

Will Bachman 33:30
How do you how do you select who you know who gets into the program? I’m not sure that must be difficult decision. Is it just first come first serve? Or do you have some kind of needs based verification? How do you make that decision?

33:42
Yeah, it’s it’s first come first serve. But where we have a verification process? So on our registration form, we’re asking families contact information. But we’re also asking them, are they out of work? Do they qualify for unemployment benefits? Have they been able to receive a stimulus check? Trying to get an idea of what kinds of resources they potentially have access to. So that we can ensure that were continuously serving the most vulnerable in our community. There, there is much let me say I, I don’t feel it is my responsibility to decide who gets what I and I’m not the only one. Everyone in our organization has the same sentiment that it is not up to us to determine who’s receiving the food. If somebody is coming to us and saying that they need help, and they fit the criteria that we’ve established, then that’s all that’s required. We don’t ask people for identification. We don’t ask people to prove any Anything, because at the end of the day, I think that everybody should be getting this food. And and I know that if they’re asking for it, then they need and that should be enough for us. And because we’re a bit more private we have the ability to, to do. But yeah, I mean, I first come first serve. And in a sense of who we have been able to serve thus far are the first people who have been on our list. And when we get when we open up more spots, the people who are on our list after them will get served next, and so on and so forth. But there’s there’s no request for proof in terms of people’s income or things like that.

Will Bachman 35:53
Kim, where can people go and find out more about your organization and if they feel so moved to donate and contribute to the work that you’re doing?

Kim Calichio 36:03
Absolutely. So if you go to the connected chef comm Lifeline grocery is the name of the initiative, you’ll see a nice little tab on there. And you can learn more about the program, you can find out about what we’re doing each day when you get to see all those awesome pictures that we post. And you can also donate or volunteer as well. A donations are greatly appreciated and volunteer time as well. Those are the things that keep us going every week. We also have social media platforms at the connected chef.com. So you can follow us on Instagram, LinkedIn, or Facebook as well.

Will Bachman 36:42
Fantastic, Kim, congratulations, and thank you for the work you’re doing. And thanks for coming on the show. Thank you so much for having me. It’s been a pleasure.

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