What do you do when you hear about needy international families living on campus and seniors in the community with no way to get food — and you have half a ton of Farm to Fork beans in the basement? If you’re Bon Appétit General Manager Linda Brinegar at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, MI, you get to work.
As the COVID-19 crisis began unfolding in March and students at Andrews went home, Linda, Executive Chef Lance Clark, and their remaining small team of Bon Appétit and Andrews University Dining employees continued to feed the 30 or so students who needed to stay on campus. With the university’s blessing (and financial support), they began expanding their efforts. They’re now delivering their delicious from-scratch vegetarian and vegan food — Andrews University is a Seventh-day Adventist Church educational institution — to members of the public in a 5-mile radius, and they’ve started an incredible food donation program for hundreds of international families living in apartment complexes on campus.
AUeats, to go
It started with the AUeats program, to-go lunches that the public could order in the morning via phone. Every day AU Dining makes two hearty yet healthy options, a vegetarian and a vegan one. Two examples of recent delicious meals: pea and potato samosas with cilantro lime chutney, red lentil dahl, saffron rice, cumin-roasted vegetables, choice of chickpeas and brown rice or mulligatawny soup, spinach salad with carrot ginger dressing, and a chocolate brownie; and walnut “meatballs” with tangy barbecue sauce, garlic mashed potatoes, house gravy, broccoli, whole grain roll, choice of lentils and brown rice or roasted vegetables, barley soup, baby kale salad with buttermilk dressing, and banana pudding parfait.
The meals are reasonably priced and delivery is free, thanks to the university’s generous support. Unsurprisingly, the response to this incredible program has been ecstatic: the team is selling between 60 to 200 meals per day — depending on the entrée — many of them to elderly folks living alone in the area.
“This is so much more than feeding people. This is just this overwhelming outpouring of love. So many seniors are lonely. This is a highlight of their day to have my driver pull up and just wave at them through the window,” says Linda. “We told them originally no tips. They just insisted. They leave envelopes taped on doors; one man set up a table on the porch with flowers and money on it for us!”
Boxes of love
Meanwhile, Linda had learned that hundreds of international families, part of Andrews international missionary training program, remained stranded in the University Apartments complex by international travel bans and were struggling with food insecurity. When the campus first shut down, she took those Farm to Fork beans and added potatoes, carrots, celery, onions, peppers, tomatoes and more to create pantry boxes. “Nothing fancy, just good wholesome food. We passed out over 350 boxes, gratis of AU Dining Services,” she says proudly.
Later, Linda realized that there was something she could do with those unasked-for tips from AUeats — and more. She knew the campus apartment families needed additional and broader support, such as diapers, formula, and staples. She spearheaded a program that allowed families to sign up for assistance and sponsors to donate the needed funds or the items directly. The program now has close to 30 sponsors — many of them Bon Appétit employees and Andrews University employees — and continues to grow.
People can also make a one-time donation, anonymously or not, through Dining Services. Linda worked with Bon Appétit’s produce distributor, Piazza Produce, to create a fruit box she could purchase for $20, and a vegetable one for $30 — Piazza’s cost. Linda uses the sponsorship money and the AUeats tips to order the food boxes, then Andrews’ campus security delivers them over the apartment complexes. To date, they have delivered more than 300 of these fresh food boxes!
“I happened to be in the van when one of my team members delivered supplies to a family he was sponsoring [anonymously]. The father ran out of the apartment and was so excited he began to jump up and down! There was such rejoicing and tears!” recalls Linda. “I will never forget it as long as I live.”
“Many thanks, and God’s blessings, for Chef Linda, her Bon Appétit/Dining Services team…and their heart of mission,” wrote President Dr. Andrea Luxton in one of her newsletters publicizing the program.
“If not us … who?”
President Luxton is not Linda’s only fan. AUeats Manager Berta Arroyo wrote to Bon Appétit headquarters out of her own accord to make sure that everyone knew about Linda’s leadership during this unprecedented time.
“I have seen Chef Linda [Linda was the executive chef before she became general manager] go above and beyond for everyone, but in this pandemic I have seen her raise up like never before. She has taken this project of helping families in need to heart; I have seen her work long hours, make millions of calls, send thousands of emails, and create connections with these families just to make sure every single one has food on their table,” Berta wrote. “I have seen her put money out of her own pocket to buy food for families as we don’t have enough sponsors. I have seen her making sure that every single person gets fed, even if it takes us going back to the kitchen to make them a meal. I’m so proud and blessed to work by her side.”
Linda brushes off all praise: “You just come in and do what must be done, without even giving it a second thought. I am grateful to be able to serve during these most challenging days. If not us … who?”
Those who wish to donate to the community-feeding program can email Director of Operations Dianne Wilson, Dianne.Wilson@cafebonappetit.com.