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SWANNANOA - Food Connection, Wicked Weed and YMCA of WNC have partnered to bring free meals to Swannanoa Valley residents every Saturday through June 23.

The meals are provided as part of a bigger effort to provide food to those in need.

“What we normally do is rescue unused food from events and conferences,” said Flori Pate, founder and executive director of Food Connection. “When the pandemic hit and the restaurants closed, our food sources stopped and our normal food partners that are used to getting food weren’t getting anything from us which was upsetting.”

To continue serving the community, Pate said Food Connection shifted its model: fundraising to provide money for raw goods for chefs to prepare meals on their behalf.

As part of their Beers that Build program, Wicked Weed and chef Eric Morris were providing around 900 meals a week before community engagement coordinator Rachel Dudasik reached out to community partners to help scale up the operation.

“Food Connection had a great existing set of partners,” Dudasik said. “We felt strongly that they could help make it happen.”

After seeing the work the partners were already doing, an anonymous donor contributed $200,000 to help in their efforts.

Food Connection is currently distributing about 5,000 meals a week, and 200 of those were given to Swannanoa Valley residents within one hour on the first Saturday of the program. Pate said they plan to bring 300 meals for the next distribution day.

Pate said they are providing food at several distribution points and chose Swannanoa Valley because of the people they have met there.

“We actually have been delivering meals to some of the mobile home communities in Swannanoa, and we’ve gotten to know many of the families who live there and we know that the need is great,” Pate said. “We just thought that would be a really good distribution point.

Though meals change each week, there is always a vegetarian option. One menu included smoked trout, panzanella and potatoes, with mushroom gratin being served in place of the trout for the vegetarian option.

Both Pate and Dudasik said they hope to continue the programs once restrictions are lifted and businesses begin to reopen.

“We’ll definitely have to scale down a little bit once we reopen, but we’re committed to filling the gap,” Dudasik said. “We know once things start reopening the need doesn’t go away.”

To receive a meal, recipients can drive to Symmetry Financial at 204 Whitson Ave. where Food Connection volunteers will bring meals to the cars. The program is currently set to run every Saturday from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. until June 23.

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