Local restaurants paying it forward through Off Their Plate donation

Frontline medical workers receive cooked meals, made possible form Off Their Plate. The nonprofit donates money to local restaurants to prepare meals for those in need. Contributed photo.
Frontline medical workers receive cooked meals, made possible form Off Their Plate. The nonprofit donates money to local restaurants to prepare meals for those in need. Contributed photo.

As a business owner, Jill Weber has always believed in lending a helping hand to the community. A strong supporter of schools, the arts, charities, and disaster relief efforts, Weber’s three South Philly establishments have seemingly always found a way to help those in need.

Over the last few months, COVID-19 has presented its challenges, especially to restaurant owners. And when Weber received a donation to help keep her own businesses afloat, she was thrilled to get to work, once again helping others.

Two of Weber’s restaurants — Cafe Ynez on Washington Avenue and Rex 1516 on South Street — were chosen to receive funding from Off Their Plate, a grassroots organization that funds local restaurants to provide free meals to frontline healthcare workers in cities across America.

Weber’s kitchens are now churning out meals that are sent to nearby hospitals and medical facilities to feed frontline workers and support staff who have been pulling long hours to fight the virus.

“It’s amazing for us,” said Weber, who also owns Jet Wine Bar on South Street. “It actually keeps us in business. There’s no doubt about it. It’s a great thing that we’re able to work with them. They had this money coming in, and there’s a need, and we’re happy to provide the service.”

Off Their Plate raises money within a community, then helps create jobs for laid-off restaurant workers by donating to local restaurant owners. The meals are then purchased from those partner restaurants and sent to medical workers. It’s helped keep the lights on in restaurants in several major cities across the country, including Philadelphia.

“We prepare the meals, and the restaurants donate by delivering the meals for free,” Weber said. “But we’re getting the money to make the food and pay the labor, which is a big help.”

Contributed photo

The initiative in Philadelphia was made possible after receiving a rather large $100,000 donation from Tork, which is an Essity brand in workplace hygiene.

“Tork is proud of this partnership, which makes it possible for us to support both restaurants and frontline healthcare workers,” said Don Lewis, president of Professional Hygiene at Essity. “This pandemic has deeply impacted our customers and we are dedicated to helping businesses that have been hardest hit, such as restaurants and cafes, on their road to recovery.”

Off Their Plate put the money to good use, donating 100 percent of proceeds to restaurants, with half of the donations allocated toward staff salaries.

“Since mid-March, we have raised enough funds to support the delivery of more than 300,000 meals across nine U.S. cities,” said Natalie Guo, Harvard Medical School student and founder of Off Their Plate. “Thanks to Tork, we will now have the capacity to significantly expand our work in Philadelphia, where we have seen a large increase in demand for our services.”

Weber has seen it first hand. She says she’s fortunate that Cafe Inez has been able to remain open for curbside pickup throughout the pandemic, and it has enabled her to keep her entire staff there.

Contributed photo

Rex 1516 has had a more challenging time, as the fine dining establishment was forced to close up until two weeks ago. The donation recently put some employees back to work.

“Cafe Inez, being a Mexican restaurant, already did a fair amount of takeout business, so that was a pretty easy pivot,” Weber said. “Rex 1516, in addition to the Off Their Plate offerings, is also now open for takeout but it’s a different beast. It’s less fast-casual and more fine dining when one can dine in.”

Five other South Philly restaurants are taking part in the initiative: Hardena on Hicks Street, Kalaya Thai Kitchen on 9th Street, Sate Kampar on East Passyunk Avenue, Los Cuatros Soles on Chadwick Street and Mexico Lindo on Moore Street.

Off Their Plate has raised nearly $4 million to help restaurants nationwide. To donate, visit www.OffTheirPlate.org.