Theorem Vineyards and Josh Mitchell, who provides the food at our vineyard, recently partnered together for a different kind of meal: providing hundreds of meals to families in Calistoga who are facing dire conditions due to COVID-19. Jason and Kisha Itkin wanted to help the community through the health crisis and resulting economic downturn. Their idea? “Free Meal Fridays,” a weekly meal service for area families facing tough circumstances as a result of the coronavirus.

We coordinated the meal service with Josh Mitchell, who runs Napa Valley Heritage Catering out of his kitchen in Riverlea Plaza. On March 27, we provided 50 free meals. Because it was such short notice, the effort was fairly improvised. We wanted to keep the momentum growing and build upon it. So our team spread the word about the free meals to anyone who might know people in need.

The Numbers Balloon as Word Spreads

The following Thursday, we expected to make 250 meals, 5 times the previous week’s meals. Within hours, we had an updated figure: 400 meals. Despite having no staff and only 24 hours to prepare, Chef Josh managed to use all of his supplies left in storage. We were lucky; due to his use of traditional food preservation (e.g. keeping food in salt or fat), he had a great deal of food ready for preparation.

The menu for the meals was:

  • Crispy pork carnitas
  • Crispy pork cheek
  • Molasses-smoked ham
  • Short ribs
  • Roasted tomatillo salsa
  • Rich, brothy black beans
  • Cole slaw with pickled jalapeños
  • Roasted chicken soup
  • Lime cilantro crema

Given the high numbers, we notified the local police department and equipped all staff with gloves and masks. Meals were delivered directly to people in their cars, in keeping with social distancing guidelines. The demand was enormous-- we gave away more than 100 meals in the first 30 minutes.

“We have to make sure that these people who rely on tips (for a living) are taken care of,” Chef Josh said to the Napa Valley Register. “I’m sure that they are struggling as far as being able to get a good meal.”

“I love Calistoga, and the way the that the community has stepped up year after year, including the fires … you take care of people that are in this with you,” he said. “I tell people I have a little grandma inside me, and all I want to do is feed people, and make sure they are nourished.”

Other Local Businesses Follow Suit

Despite giving away nearly ten times what we provided a week ago, the need for free meals was still greater than we had anticipated. Clark Vineyard Management—who farm our vineyards—has stepped up to sponsor any meals above the 450 Theorem had already committed to provide. We’re also planning on finding more sponsors for at least three more Free Meal Fridays. Our VP James Cerda said it best—“Our goal is to keep this going throughout the time people are out of work. We want to do it in a way that will inspire and challenge others…who’s going to step up next?”

To read the whole story, visit the article from the Napa Valley Register.