Chef Hank Reid is the driving force behind Lettum Eat!
Ask “Chef Hank” Reid what inspired Lettum Eat! (https://lettumeat.com), the nonprofit he leads to battle food insecurity in Gwinnett County, and his answer is a short one: God tapped him on the shoulder.
Reid, a professional chef for more than 30 years, was working as the resident chef at Walton EMC member First Baptist Church Snellville when divine inspiration caused him to stop and look around.
Lettum Eat Mission Statement: Mobile food provisions prepared with care and served with compassion to those in need.
“The church had a kitchen. I’m a chef. Let’s do something with it,” he explained about the “aha moment” in 2019 that led to the free meal program. The nonprofit recently received a $10,000 financial grant from Walton EMC’s member-funded Operation Round Up (ORU).
The chef envisioned Lettum Eat! — named for a phrase often used in restaurant kitchens to signify an order is ready — as a ministry outreach that would provide free meals to food-insecure individuals and families in local communities. When the program served its first meals in January 2020, more than 81,000 Gwinnett County residents were going hungry each day, according to the Map the Meal Gap study conducted annually by Feeding America.
Pandemic shutdowns pushed the number of food-insecure households in Gwinnett County to unprecedented numbers.
“Little did we know the world was about to fall apart,” Reid said. Pandemic shutdowns threw the local economy into a tailspin, pushing the number of food-insecure households in Gwinnett County to unprecedented numbers last year.
“God led me to develop the organization because he knew more people were gonna need this service,” Hank said.
A $10,000 financial grant from Operation Round Up is helping nonprofit Lettum Eat! feed the hungry in Gwinnett County.
Those seeking meals from Lettum Eat! grew “exponentially” in the wake of the pandemic. “We served people who never expected to be in that position,” the chef added.
Working with many community partners, Lettum Eat! quickly increased its food delivery, preparation and storage capabilities, allowing the organization to serve nearly 80,000 meals in its first 12 months of existence.
Even though the economy has reopened in Georgia, local food insecurity continues to be a serious challenge and Lettum Eat! remains busy. Under Reid’s leadership, a small staff and volunteers prepare and distribute meals Tuesday through Friday.
A portion of the grant from Operation Round Up purchased ingredients that are added to donated food items to create each day’s meals. Every meal includes a starch, a green vegetable and a protein. The chefs take pride in preparing meals they would serve in their own home.
“We do with what [food donations] we have on any given day, but cook it in different ways and use different flavor profiles to make a nice meal,” Reid said.
The nonprofit’s main kitchen has moved to Annistown Road Church in southwestern Snellville, a location nearer many of those they serve.
“There are a high number of extended stay hotels in the Norcross and Snellville area. Food insecurity is a particular problem, especially where there are families with children. And many of the rooms in these hotels don’t have kitchens where food can be prepared,” Reid explained.
The Lettum Eat! team is currently serving about 3,200 meals weekly.
Distribution locations have also expanded to include libraries as well as churches in a broader service area, including Norcross and Buford. Some of the ORU grant was used to purchase a truck for more efficient meal distribution. The truck is being retrofitted as a fully functional mobile kitchen capable of serving several hundred hot meals per hour in any given area, distributed through a serving window from a walk-up counter.
The Lettum Eat! team is currently serving about 3,200 meals weekly. With the help of Operation Round Up participants and other partners, they’re on track to more than double the number of free meals distributed in 2020.