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South Bay Non-Profit Adapts To Keep Feeding Needy During Pandemic

Hunger At Home has provided more than 400,000 meals to those who need them in just the past 3 months.

NBC Universal, Inc.

As early as 6 am on Wednesday and Fridays, the first of what will eventually be 300 cars begin to line up down the middle of Berger Drive in San Jose.

In them, people who have had their lives turned upside by the pandemic and are now relying on a non-profit that has had to turn itself inside out to help.

"We are so lucky and fortunate to be able to do what we are doing right now," Ewell Sterner, CEO of Hunger At Home, said.

NBC Bay Area profiled Ewell in 2016 when he was still General Manager of the San Jose Convention Center. After years of working in the hospitality industry and seeing all the food that went to waste every day, Ewell had founded Hunger At Home.

The model was simple: take the leftover food from conferences, conventions, and corporate cafeterias and transport it to local non-profits that feed the hungry. It was a workflow that was working very well ... until COVID-19 changed everything.

"The hotels started calling saying we're having to close," Ewell said. "It became more and more real."

Suddenly, Hunger At Home's source of high-quality prepared foods was gone but the need for it was greater than ever.

"Hunger At Home changed rapidly," said Dinari Brown, the organization's COO. Brown said they mobilized quickly to tap into new sources of uncooked foods, often coming from businesses that would normally be selling to the now-closed hotels. Now, however, Hunger At Home would need to prepare the food as well.

Fortunately, they soon tapped into the skills of hotel chefs who were now unemployed, many of whom now volunteer to prepare the food for the non-profit. The results are surprisingly gourmet for a free food offering.

"It's important that we give quality food because that's our history, that's our careers," Dinari, who formerly was Executive Chef at Levi's Stadium said.

Since March, Hunger At Home has given out more than 400,000 meals.

It is not just the source of food that has changed, it is who is getting it. Many of the people waiting in cars are people who lost jobs when the hotels closed, people Ewell knows personally.

"People we all worked with," Ewell said. "In need and struggling. It's sad."

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