Wisconsin Chef Uses Food Surplus to Feed a Community in Need

David Heide uses his culinary skills to fight local hunger in a fresh way.

Food is love, says Madison, Wisconsin, chef Dave Heide—and that’s just one of the reasons he named his ventures after his kids. These ventures include Liliana’s Restaurant and Little John’s Kitchens, a nonprofit aimed to serve beautiful food to people in need.

How Did Little John’s Start?

Little John's food truckCourtesy Little John's Kitchens

Liliana’s, Dave’s upscale dining spot, is about a mile away from a neighborhood where the average family of four has just $6 to spend on a meal. At that rate, he notes, families often rely on fast food and canned foods that tend to be high in starches and low on proteins.

The idea for Little John’s Kitchens was sparked when a local nonprofit asked Dave and a friend, chef Patrick DePula, to showcase the problem of food waste in America at a local event. The two were interviewed on a news broadcast the night before the event, at which time about 300 were expected to attend. By morning, reservations had spiked to 700.

To help, Metcalfe’s, a local grocery store, agreed to donate excess food that it would otherwise have to toss. When a volunteer went out to unload the Metcalfe’s van, he found dozens of bags filled with fresh meat and produce. “None of it was past the expiration date or damaged or bruised,” says Dave. “Patrick and I ended up cooking for 800 people, six courses,” and there was plenty of food left over.

Here’s how you can reduce food waste in your own kitchen.

It’s All About Giving Back

prepping containers of mealsCourtesy Little John's Kitchens

The chefs realized that good food thrown out by supermarkets could be used to ease hunger. Today, using that excess food, Little John’s is serving early child care centers, two schools, senior centers, Meals on Wheels and other meal programs offered by nonprofits and government agencies.

Dave recently launched a $6 million fundraising campaign to establish “a giant commissary kitchen” to supply even more chef-quality meals to those who need them. The more people who are inspired to take just one more step to help others, he believes, the better the world will be. “If we can start seeing good, happiness and compassion in people,” Dave says, “that’s where we can start to see a turn for the good.”

Learn how you can help Little John’s Kitchens’ mission at littlejohnskitchens.org.

The Problem of Food Insecurity

More people in the U.S. ­experience food insecurity than you may think. According to the USDA’s latest Household Food Insecurity in the United States report, more than 38 million people in the U.S. experienced hunger in 2020. Many households that experience food insecurity do not qualify for federal nutrition programs. They visit their local food banks and other food programs for extra support. These are the ways to help your local food bank.

Because of the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, more than 42 million people may experience food insecurity. According to Feeding America’s annual Map the Meal Gap study, the average cost of one meal per person in the United States is $3.13. You can help out by starting or donating to a community fridge.

Food banks are doing what they can to fight hunger in the face of the pandemic, but they need help. Want to know what you can do? Visit feedingamerica.org/covid19 to learn more about Feeding America’s pandemic response, and find a food bank near you.

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Nan Bialek
When she was in fourth grade, a local newspaper published one of Nan’s stories and she hasn’t stopped writing since. Today, as a freelancer, she writes features and website content about inspiring people who are trying to change the world. When she’s not telling their stories, Nan enjoys getting her hands dirty in the garden, reading novels and hunting for quirky vintage décor.