By Mike Kinney
Even before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic shelter-in-place orders, the owners of several gas stations in the Bay Area, including the ARCO at 23rd Street and Barrett Avenue in Richmond, recognized the need to feed local families.
In January, they launched a Free Meals on Wheels program from their gas stations in San Jose, Oakland and Richmond, said Japjot Sethi, who started the program with his partner Devinder Singh, who was a head chef at the Stanford cafeteria serving thousands of students. Singh leads cooking and operations for the free meals program, which launched in Richmond in March.
The timing couldn’t have been better. And the impact has been immense.
Every Thursday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., about 1,000 to 1,500 meals are handed out to underserved families at the Richmond ARCO on 23rd Street. To date, 25,000 hot meals and 15,000 grocery boxes have been provided from the Richmond location.
To date from all its Bay Area locations, the program has delivered about 30,000 hot meals, 25,000 grocery boxes and 5,000 gallons of milk, Sethi said.
“Our vision is to bring free food trucks in underserved areas to provide food to families and individuals in need,” he said. “No one should have to go to bed hungry.”
Sethi said their efforts have been aided by the Richmond Police Department. He approached an RPD officer who connected with the city’s Crime Prevention unit, which spread the word and connected the program to school district families in need.
Richmond officials are proud to help embolden Sethi’s efforts.
“Putting a meal on the table is very hard In these times,” said Michelle Milam, the city’s Crime Prevention manager. “It was hard before the pandemic and harder now. Free Meals on Wheels is a demonstration of how the community is coming together to help support those in need and demonstrates the passion to serve.”
The program could use even more helping hands.
People can donate or sign up to volunteer to support the food giveaways by visiting the website www.freemealsonwheels.com.