Fighting hunger from the hollows to the heartland
By Debra Adams Simmons, HISTORY Executive Editor
Houston’s Chris Williams was terrified when the pandemic began because he feared he would lose his restaurant. He dropped his prices and converted to a takeout spot. Then he turned his attention to those most in need.
“We switched up our entire business model to where we took profitability out of the equation and focused on sustainability, sustaining the business itself and then the people that make the business run,” Williams told Nat Geo’s Tucker Toole. “We dropped all our prices by about 40% on average, redid all of our menus, sourced cheaper ingredients while still putting the same amount of care and love into our meals.”
Williams created a nonprofit, Lucille’s 1913, named for the year his great grandmother launched her own community catering business. It began serving meals to the first responders. He was able to donate more than 10,000 meals through the World Central Kitchen in addition to providing thousands of meals each week to front line workers and vulnerable local residents. He saved his restaurant, saved staff jobs, and fed people in a city where one in five residents don't have enough to eat.
North and south, urban and rural, food industry leaders across the U.S. have jumped in to help address the nation’s growing food emergency. More than 50 million Americans did not have enough food in 2020, a number made worse by the pandemic. (Pictured above, Willard Marcum, an EMT, drives the 725th and final vehicle through a food bank in Dunlow, West Virginia, nearly 12 hours after the first volunteers arrived that morning.)
Sharing the little you have: In rural Kentucky and West Virginia, people often drive 45 minutes to swamped food pantries. In Clay County, West Virginia, Jen Lively told Nat Geo’s Oliver Whang that she’d probably starve without regular food deliveries from a high school teacher. Lively (pictured at left, cooking beans for dinner on her wood stove) takes in any of her son’s friends who are homeless. (At right, Brian Lively helps his parents dig for wild roots like black cohosh, bloodroot, and ginseng; the crops, sold for homeopathic medicines, provide the Livelys’ only source of income.)
Chefs at work: Twice a day, five days a week, furloughed chefs in Minneapolis make hot meals for the hungry, from the homeless to overwhelmed working parents, ESPN’s Liz Merrill wrote for Nat Geo. The Minnesota Central Kitchen, sponsored by Second Harvest Heartland, has served 1.1 million meals since March. Inside Sean Sherman’s Indigenous Food Lab (above), chefs prepare mass meals of duck to be distributed to elders in indigenous communities in need across Minnesota.
Accepting help: In Queens, New York, people often have to wait hours in line for a food pantry, a Nat Geo video shows. At a tent encampment where she lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, Christy Haanen (pictured above, at right) accepts a Thanksgiving meal. “Not all of us choose to be out here,” Haanen says. “But many don’t have a family. They don’t have anybody."
'To show that we care’: Distributing free meals of chicken, rice, and salad in a St. Paul parking lot, volunteer Courtney Bivens (right), hugs a man he knew from the neighborhood who approached. “This pandemic has taken its toll on everybody, and there are people who have been hit hardest, are less fortunate, don’t have places to live,” he says. “Our purpose it to show that we still care—that we really gave a damn.” Here’s how you can find a food bank in your area.
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Today in a minute
Two new museums: Tucked into the stimulus bill are provisions for new Smithsonian museums dedicated to America’s Latino community and to the U.S. women's history. The House had overwhelming approved the museums, but they had been initially blocked in the Senate before passage last week, CNN reports.
A muted celebration: In 2019, an estimated 9.8 million people thronged the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City—the second most visited Roman Catholic site, surpassed only by the Vatican—to pay their respects to the nation’s patron saint. This December, with COVID-19 ravaging Mexico, only a trickle showed up to honor the Virgin of Guadalupe, Nat Geo’s Nina Strochlic reports. Devotees, urged by church leaders, instead set up home shrines and tuned in to a live-streamed mass.
Overdue: For 73 years, since Jackie Robinson took the field with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Major League Baseball rode on the coattails of that “breaking” of the color line. It was only this month, however, that MLB recognized the innovative, competitive Negro Leagues as an equal for recognition and statistical compilations. The “be thankful” aspect of MLB’s announcement irks Clinton Yates of ESPN’s The Undefeated. “In 2020, joining the globe in recognizing that Black folks are real people without whom you could never survive is not a reason to say, ‘you’re welcome,’” Yates writes. “It’s a reason to say sorry.”
How Kwanzaa began: The word means “first” in Swahili, and the celebration of African-American culture and heritage that runs through Friday reflects the first harvest marked by generations of Africans. First celebrated in 1966, Kwanzaa sought to build family, community, and culture, writes Nat Geo’s Amy McKeever in her brief history.
Instagram photo of the day
A cousin, a symbol: Photographer Rashod Taylor says he was honored to photograph two of his cousins in uniform for a Nat Geo story on Black military families. Above is Staff Sergeant Vanessa Lewis Williams of the Georgia Army National Guard as she sits for an old-timey tintype portrait. “I use the wet plate collodion process to bridge the past to the present,” he says. Williams and her sister, combat veteran Valerie E. Lewis, share their stories on being deployed, serving in the same unit, and their experience as women in the military for an upcoming story.
The big takeaway
Making gold leaf: Yes, it’s thin. But how thin are the gold leaf sheets applied to Buddha statues at shrines across Myanmar? Nat Geo’s Paul Salopek reports that workers pound gold grains 20,000 times until they are flattened into sheets about 30 times thinner than a human hair. Salopek has spent most of the past seven years tracing the earliest routes of ancient civilization on his Out of Eden Walk. (Pictured above, stacked grains of gold at the King Galon Gold Leaf Workshop, in Mandalay.)
In a few words
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The last glimpse
The Roman who loved Greece: He was born near Seville, became a Roman empire, but lavished his attentions upon Athens. Hadrian embellished the Greek capital, with lankmarks that survive today, such as the the mighty Temple of Olympian Zeus. Hadrian’s devotion to Greece has a practical aspect. “Hadrian knew that his exaltation and improvement of the city would help stabilize the fractious eastern part of the sprawling Roman Empire he had come to rule,” Nat Geo’s History magazine finds. (Pictured above, a marble bust of Hadrian from A.D. 130-140, in which he sported a Greek-style haircut and beard.)