Light House Bistro – Feeding Our Most Vulnerable Neighbors During the Covid-19 Crisis

Light House Bistro may have temporarily closed its doors in March, but this social enterprise developed by The Light House Homeless Prevention Support Center has still been hard at work. The mission of this full-service restaurant and catering social enterprise is to change lives one meal at a time by providing training and job opportunities for graduates of Light House programs. Now they are also changing lives during the Covid-19 crisis by providing our most vulnerable neighbors with hot meals and pantry items.

Light House Bistro staff hard at work prepping meals for those in need. (L-R) Line Cook and B.E.S.T. Culinary Employment Training graduate, Tyler Meade-Nelson, Executive Chef, David Hammer, Restaurant Manager, Mike Lash, Executive Sous Chef and B.E.S.T. Culinary Employment Training graduate, Chip Thomas, and Assistant Restaurant Manager, Kelly Sammons.

When this crisis began, the first priority of The Light House and Light House Bistro was to ensure that shelter residents and other vulnerable community members had adequate healthy food and other basic needs. “Our operations had to dramatically shift, and we are so blessed to have staff that jump into action when things get tough,” said Light House Executive Director, Jo Ann Mattson. “We adjusted our food programs to a fully outdoor distribution model, our community case management services are being done solely in outdoor spaces or by phone, and thankfully with the incredible support of the County, including County Executive Pittman, our partners at Arundel Community Development Services, the Department of Social Services, and the Department of Health, we were able to implement emergency procedures to protect our residents health, including moving half of our individual residents out of our shelter dormitories and into hotel rooms.”

The stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines necessitated a transition from a predominantly volunteer-supported food program, to one overseen entirely by staff, a significant loss of manpower for the Light House’s daily operations. Despite this challenge, Director of Light House Bistro Social Enterprises, Beth Rocca, stepped in to fill the void. Light House Bistro has been preparing and delivering boxed meals daily to Light House residents in the shelter, in off-site hotel rooms, and at their transitional housing properties. Light House Bistro has also been organizing thousands of pounds of perishable and non-perishable pantry food each week, distributing it during Light House pantry hours, and delivering it to other food distribution locations throughout the county. Boxed meals, pantry bags, and basic needs kits are also being prepped by Light House Bistro and taken by case managers to local homeless tent encampments in the area. In addition to all of this and thanks to funding by the CARES Act, a new partnership between the County and Arundel House of Hope has contracted Light House Bistro to provide additional meals for all homeless clients under the County’s purview, residing in hotels separate from Light House clients. Overall, Light House and Light House Bistro are providing thousands of hot meals and thousands of pounds of pantry items each week to those most in need.

“Everyone at Light House Bistro loves food and loves to give back,” said Rocca. “We are grateful to be of service during this time and to be a part of a strong organization that bends instead of breaks during crisis. We really miss our customers and look forward to welcoming them back once this difficult time has passed, but in the meantime, we will continue to change lives one meal at a time by providing healthy food to those who need it most.”

Light House Bistro line cook, Tyler Meade-Nelson, who graduated from Light House’s B.E.S.T. Culinary Employment Training Program in 2019, has been busy prepping meals in the Light House Bistro kitchen. “Our processes have completely changed,” said Mead-Nelson. “Instead of individual meals made to order for customers, we’re now almost exclusively making meals in bulk to be boxed up and distributed throughout the community. It feels good to know that each box I’m packing is bringing hope to someone in a very difficult situation.”

Assistant Restaurant Manager, Kelly Sammons, and Director of Light House Bistro Social Enterprises, Beth Rocca prepping meals.