Members of the FIU community partnered with local restaurants and food distributors to deliver food to local homeless shelters in Miami-Dade County on April 8.
The initiative supplied more than 6,000 meals to the Camillus House Norwegian Cruise Line Campus, which serves 400 people at its Miami location every day, and The Missionaries of Charity of Mother Theresa, which serves 150 every day.
The project came about when a conversation between FIU Foundation employees and longtime FIU supporter Rene Prats, owner of Prats Enterprises, sparked an idea to “rescue” food from going to waste in restaurants that have been forced to close doors as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Prats connected FIu staff members with some of his local restaurant industry contacts and the initiative quickly expanded to include other partners as well, until the amount of donations filled a 26-foot U-haul truck.
Pincho Factory owner Nedal Ahmad was forced to close the restaurant’s Doral location as a result of the pandemic, but donated frozen meat, poultry, dairy and produce from its kitchen.
“Fortunately we were able to donate all of the product that was left in the building to those in need,” Ahmad said. He also sent the location’s employees home with food.
In addition, Nick Sharp, owner of Threefold Café – who was able to pivot his business model to offer groceries produced by local farmers – donated a truckload of fresh produce, including kale, spinach and tomatoes from DiMare Farms; and Senior Area Manager of Performance Food Service Alex Bustamente donated 12 pallets of food.
“When we’re able to help other folks, good things happen for everyone,” Prats said of the initiative, adding that he admires FIU for being a community-centric university.
Omelio “Bob” Lozada, director of operations at Camillus House, said the organization is “blessed” to receive the donations and that he appreciates the effort of FIU and local companies to help carry out Camillus House’s mission.
"It is in unity that we will get through this pandemic," Lozada said.
“We are so grateful for you all doing this during this very difficult time,” Camillus House CEO Hilda Fernandez added.
Camillus House employs one of FIU’s own: hospitality management alumnus Charles Thomas ’18, MS ’19, who serves as food service manager at the Norwegian Cruise Line Campus.
“It’s wonderful working here… being able to serve the homeless and the less fortunate with a healthy, nutritious meal,” Thomas said.
The initiative evokes a facet of the Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management’s curriculum, which emphasizes sustainability in the hospitality industry. Students have the opportunity to take a corporate social responsibility class with Professor John Buschman, a hands-on course in which they implement food recovery plans at major events like the Super Bowl. They learn to coordinate and collect unused food and transport it to local homeless and recovery shelters to prevent food waste and benefit the community.
“It’s amazing how so many people, who have faced their own economic challenges, have stepped up to the plate during this pandemic,” said Michael Cheng, dean of the Chaplin School. “And we are so very proud of our alumnus Charles Thomas for taking what he learned about sustainability and recovery from the Chaplin School and using it to help those most in need in the community.”