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Refugee Chefs Pivot To Pick-Up

Many service workers in Connecticut face unemployment after businesses closed to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. Some of those hardest hit in New Haven are refugees, who often drive Uber and Lyft or work in restaurants. As residents stay home, one group of refugee chefs aims to keep them well fed with meals to-go. 

Sanctuary Kitchen in New Haven employs about 45 chefs from more than a dozen countries. Amelia Reese Masterson is executive director of City Seed, the nonprofit that runs Sanctuary Kitchen. 

She says refugee staff usually cater events that start conversations about cultural understanding.

“Our main customer in New Haven is Yale,” Reese Masterson says. “When Yale decided to close that cut our business about 75% for this time of the school year.”

After the city asked residents to limit gatherings of fewer than 10 people, then to stay home as much as possible, the Sanctuary Kitchen staff got creative. They offered their first-ever individual to-go meals for order online. That way, refugee chefs could continue to earn paychecks. 

On Thursday Reese Masterson offered WSHU a virtual tour of how things have changed in the commercial kitchen.

“Everyone is disinfecting, sanitizing, changing gloves all the time,” Reese Masterson says. “With all the extra precautions in place, social distancing, it doesn’t feel like normal. But it does feel like we’re operating, which is great.” 

Reese Masterson says for sanitary reasons, staff banned phones and computers from the kitchen during meal prep. So she shows, instead, how the new pick-up and delivery process works. 

“The chefs who are in today, Azhar and Mona, are just putting everything into bags, organizing it and packaging up final ingredients.”

Ingredients like spicy tahini dip for Sudanese falafel

Mona sees a car pull into the parking lot. She wears a fresh pair of gloves to grab a pickup order. Masterson follows Mona with her laptop, while keeping her distance, to show WSHU a glimpse of the process.

“Hi, how are you?” Mona waves to a woman from a safe distance.

She sets the food package outside. Then, the customer picks it up. No contact.

“Do I need to do anything else?” the customer asks. Mona gestures “no” and the customer heads back to her car. It’s the second pick-up of the day, and Masterson says it’s going smoothly.

Sanctuary Kitchen sold out their first day of to-go service. Masterson says customers near and far can also use the online order form to donate a Sanctuary Kitchen meal. It would go to one of the refugee families in New Haven.

Read the latest on WSHU’s coronavirus coverage here


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