Fort Worth

Fort Worth Chef Continues Passing Out Free Meals to Those in Need

The grassroots effort started in March with more than 36,000 meals now distributed

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Kevin Martinez, executive chef, at Tokyo Cafe in Fort Worth leads a grassroots effort to pass out free meals to anyone in need. Credit: Walt Burns

Food banks and nonprofits are doing the heavy lift fighting hunger in North Texas.
But in the nine months of the pandemic, a grassroots effort in Fort Worth has handed out thousands of free meals to those who need one. And, the people behind it are the very ones who also found themselves in need.

"This whole experience has been super humbling, just the amount of people who've given when they didn't have to," said Kevin Martinez, organizer of the Free Food Care Packs.

Martinez is the executive chef at Tokyo Cafe where he's been for more than a decade. He saw the industry and friends he loves taking a big hit with the arrival of the pandemic.

"In March was when we actually had to make some tough decisions to let some of our staff go because of what was going on," he said.

Martinez worried, then did what he does best - fed them for free. Months later, he is still feeding Fort Worth.

"We first started doing only service industry just 'cuz you start with your own little micro-community first, and then you expand from there, and from there we added first responders, front line workers and then it went to anybody," he said.

Every Sunday at a designated location, Free Food Care Packs are passed out to anyone.

No questions asked.

"The only question you're gonna get is, hey, how many would you like?" he said. "This will be our 35th serving this Sunday. We've actually done north of 36,000 portions of food."

The food is restaurant-quality meals like fresh bread from Great Harvest Bread Co. Fort Worth, fruit from Mibo Fresh Foods, smoked chicken from Smokeys BBQ & Diner, Zuppa Toscana from Tokyo Cafe, salad from Black Cat Pizza Fort Worth or roast parmesan asparagus and granola brownies from Club Reflection and Crunchy Girl Granola of Fort Worth. Standard Meat Company and Acre Distilling have provided support through product and donations.

At last count, close to four dozen restaurants and food-related businesses have taken part in some way and on days when it's been hot, cold, raining and even hailing. "It's very much a community. We very much look forward to seeing each other every Sunday," Martinez said.

They donate time and talent even when many are still struggling themselves. A Go Fund Me account has raised a little bit of money but the majority comes from the members of the service industry.

"It really speaks to the character of all these amazing people in our community. this isn't a have to, this is a -- they wanted to," Martinez said.

"We are all in this together, that we don't know what's gonna happen the next few weeks, the next few months but as long as we can do to it together, we'll be okay," the chef said.

The connection to others in his industry fills Martinez's soul and the need he sees in others fuels his passion to keep going.

"We just hope people enjoy the food and can forget about things for a little bit," he said. "Without trying to tear up, we've had some amazing things people have been willing to share with us on Sundays."

He tells the story of the man who kept coming by in a new pick-up truck to get food. On the third week of getting free food, the man shared his story. He was from Iowa and in town to care for his daughter who was at the end of her cancer treatments.

"This is my rental vehicle down here, " the man told Martinez about the truck. "And since she's not able to cook for herself right now, 'cuz she's too weak. And when I'm not there for a few weeks, she's able to heat this up."

"This is why you can't judge, why you can't assume anything," Martinez said. "We're trying to get full bellies and smiles on people's face."

There are two more Free Food Care Pack Sundays on December 13 and December 20. The location is listed on the Tokyo Cafe Facebook page.

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