For those who follow The LEE Initiative’s page at Facebook, the past week will be remembered for stories of the organization’s current weather-related relief efforts in Texas. It honestly boggles the mind to take a step back and realize how far The LEE Initiative has traveled, and how quickly, since the pandemic descended just shy of a year ago.
Amid the chaos and uncertainty, The LEE Initiative hit the ground running, redesigned itself on the fly, and became a perpetual motion machine.
On Thursday, The LEE Initiative’s co-founder (with Edward Lee) and managing director Lindsey Ofcacek explained what’s next in a letter to e-mail newsletter subscribers, followed by program capsules: In 2020, we focused on relief and this year, we want to use our resources to help rebuild the industry and the supply chain in a way that’s more equitable and sustainable.
I can’t think of a better use this week for the “Edibles & Potables” slot than reprinting the newsletter in its entirety.
A Letter from Lindsey Ofcacek
We welcome 2021 with hope in our hearts for a better year to come. While 2020 was the toughest year of my life, I acknowledge and hold space for those who had a journey far harder than mine. Because of your generosity and compassion, I was given the greatest gift: I never felt helpless. I now know how resilient we are as a community, how much love people have to give, and how meaningful a meal can be. It inspires hope and connects us not only to one another but to the land and those that nourish it. The beauty of a broken world is that we can rebuild it in a way that we are proud of, in a way that supports us all. No one would have chosen the disruptions we’ve experienced, but now that we have, we have wasted this time if we do not build everything back differently, sustainably, and equitably. We consider you all part of the LEE Initiative Family, and because of your support and our incredible team members, we are honored to do our part in the rebuilding process with the national expansion of our programs in 2021. Our team and I are so grateful for this opportunity.
Women Culinary & Spirits Program
Formerly the Women Chefs of Kentucky Program, the Women Culinary & Spirits program expands both nationally and into the beverage world. This program aims to elevate women to leadership positions in the industry and help mend issues of gender inequity in top roles. The LEE Initiative will create career and life-changing mentorship experiences for ten female chefs and five female spirits professionals. This program will include a seven-day externship at a female-led restaurant; seven days of working on a sustainable farm; a butcher workshop, product development with Maker’s Mark; and a FAB Summer Camp workshop. Applications for this program open on February 26 and close March 24.
Restaurant Workers Relief Program
Through the Restaurant Workers Relief Program, The LEE Initiative has distributed over one million meals throughout the pandemic so far. With ongoing job losses and an economic crisis, millions of Americans are in need of community support and assistance, from restaurant workers to healthcare employees to touring professionals. The LEE Initiative continues to empower locally owned restaurants to serve their communities, funding their services and directly benefiting employees as they feed those in need. This relief gives the restaurant industry a chance to survive this crisis.
Restaurant Reboot Relief Program
In the summer of 2020, Ofcacek and Lee launched the Restaurant Reboot Relief Program to help repair the supply chain between small farms and independent restaurants as cities began to reopen. The LEE Initiative spent over $1 million at sustainable partner farms, giving independent restaurant partners a credit to buy products from these restaurants. This program alleviated some of the financial burden of reopening by allowing restaurants to continue buying quality products and keeping small farmers afloat. In 2021, The LEE Initiative has a goal of investing an additional $1.5 million into farms through this program.
Southern Restaurants for Racial Justice
In 2020, The LEE Initiative partnered with Southern Restaurants for Racial Justice, a coalition of bakers, chefs, makers, and restaurant owners, joined together to do the work to benefit Black communities and Black-owned restaurants in the South. In 2021, The LEE Initiative will continue working with SRRJ to give grants directly to Black-owned restaurants in the South, helping to offset the toll that the pandemic has taken on these restaurants.
The McAtee Training and Community Kitchen
Formerly McAtee Community Kitchen, this program will expand as a culinary internship program for young adults, providing long-term career paths to young professionals in Louisville while helping the industry become more diverse and empowered. The McAtee Training and Community Kitchen will also cook, deliver, and organize meals for Louisville communities in need.