Dinner and dignity
As soon as social distancing became the rule, Evan and Elizabeth Wilson of Medford lost their business and their livelihood.
The Wilsons owned Stumpt! Escape Games for over a year in downtown Medford, but it didn’t allow for social distancing, so customers canceled.
“Our income went away overnight, and we didn’t know what to do or how to pay bills,” says Evan.
The Wilsons are “foodies” who love to cook and have been chefs, so that’s what they turned to — for themselves and a handful of friends.
Word spread. People loved their food. Then the couple began to hear about isolated poor and elderly people who not only couldn’t get to the market or cook, but didn’t have two nickels to rub together. They heard about one single mother feeding her children (not herself) on one can of creamed corn per day. That did it, says Evan.
Elizabeth had a vision of them cooking and delivering high-quality (no canned food or preservatives) breakfast and dinner to needy folks between Phoenix and Central Point and asking for a donation, averaging half of what you’d pay in a restaurant, so they could “cover a few bills.”
If the recipient is really poor, Evan says, it can be gratis — and he trusts people to be honest about it. He asks each caller if they would also like to sponsor a meal for someone else.
In honor of the global pandemic, they sprinkled a little humor on their business, naming it Apocalypse Chow.
This is no rubber chicken dinner. You choose from weekly menus on their Facebook. The current one shows country potatoes with green peppers and onions, sauteed veggies & greens, scrambled eggs, with optional bacon or sausage. Quesadillas have cheese, eggs, potatoes, veggies, greens, meat. There’s also pancake batter with bananas & chocolate chips.
Daily meal deliveries were up to 18 after a week in operation, and they realized they were going to need access to a commercial kitchen, major utensils, health inspections and permits, so they launched a gofundme that, on its first day, was up to $385 on a $2,500 goal.
On gofundme, he notes, “They are vulnerable members of our community who cannot leave the house for many reasons or are unable to buy groceries because they have lost jobs and didn’t have savings to stock up on food.”
With many restaurants laying off kitchen workers, they’ve received many job applications and are setting up a payroll system. Former employees are stepping up as volunteer drivers.
“In stores, we saw essential goods flying off the shelves. People were staggering, not having access to food at all, let alone good food. We got requests out of our friends network to make food and it took off.
“It’s been a surreal whirlwind. We delivered to a woman with epilepsy. It wasn’t safe for her to operate the stove, and she lost her caregiver, who didn’t want to be exposed to possible virus. She had no safety net,” says Evan. “There was the woman not eating but feeding her kids canned corn. It’s been absolutely crazy.”
Friends donated money, he says, so they could buy initial supplies.
They’ve applied for a business license, but until they get it, they deliver only to those unable to pay. Soon customers will be able to order on their website, which is under construction.
“We’re already overwhelmed,” he says, “but we’re taking extreme safety measures about space distancing and sanitation, and we do a rigorous screening with any workers. When we get the commercial kitchen, we’ll scale up.”
Evan sometimes works as a German translator and teacher — and was a founder of a publication called the Rogue Valley Messenger. He plans to produce a video cooking show and write a cookbook, named, of course, “Apocalypse Chow.”
He has a philosophical take on the endeavor, noting, “It feels apocalyptic, the concept of what we’re doing with food, so we can feed our family and those in need and keep up the model of doing it with nutritious, delicious food.
“I love food for emotional reasons. It brings people together. This crisis is hard for a lot of people. A lot of folks are emotionally damaged. I want them to have their dignity.”