On Friday evening, in the middle of a thunderstorm, chef Andrew Forlines served free meals from his front yard to friends and neighbors. He’s become somewhat of an expert in weathering storms since he was laid off in March because of the coronavirus.
“I’m doing the meals to show people that we can still find ways to connect and show each other that we care,” Forlines said.
Since Forlines lost his job as executive chef at Mountain High Appliance, he’s started his own culinary consulting company as an event planner and instructor in the residential appliance industry. He’s also continued to cook from his home, providing free meals every week for anyone interested, from his neighbors to curious residents who find the event on Facebook.
He and his partner, Melina Bixler, have organized meal distributions five times since late May, serving anywhere from 40 to 70 meals each time. Forlines said he plans to continue through the summer, though next Friday he’ll take a week off for a July 3 movie and potluck event he’s helping organize for the Overland Park community.
Last week, Forlines prepared a vegetable curry, saag paneer and jasmine rice, all gluten free and vegan. He said he tries to prepare food that he can make in bulk with options for dietary restrictions, lots of vegetables and favorite flavors.
Some customers choose to pay, others don’t. Community members who don’t eat the food will also donate, so Forlines said it evens out for the cost of groceries.
Volunteers from the neighborhood helped Bixler and Forlines pack meals. This week they had 40 orders, about half for delivery. Customers started trickling in at 6:15 during a lull in the storm. As he spooned rice and curry into tins, Forlines addressed each person by name and recalled their order from memory. He also offered boxes of fresh produce and cake pops, both donated by community members.
Bixler and Forlines’ 18-month-old daughter, Emme, toddled around their front yard before the rain. She climbed into a wagon filled with produce boxes and meals to accompany her mother delivering food to neighbors. As it started to pour, Emmy climbed into her father’s lap under the tent, waiting for the storm to pass.
Forlines and Bixler see their food as connected to other work they do in the neighborhood. They’re both involved in the Overland Park Co-Housing Collective, a group that pools resources, childcare, meals and other projects in Southwest Denver. They both also have backgrounds in event planning, which made the food distribution second nature.
“We do so much, this is us slowing down,” Forlines said. “I’ve been bottled up and it had to come out in some way.”
Forlines is also involved at the Mayu Sanctuary on Pearl Street, where he’s currently working on a showcase of Black businesses, and Bixler is the director of training, evaluation and advocacy at Girls Inc. of Metro Denver.
After reading about food insecurity in Denver during the pandemic, Forlines decided to put his culinary gifts to use. He knows first hand how difficult times are for families.
“There’s a lot of strain on the existing food distribution places for people in need, and so [the meals] felt like a little something I could do to help people in the area cope with these uncertain times,” Forlines said. “It’s taking a little stress out of people’s lives and helping bring people together.”
For future free meals, check the Overland Park Co-Housing Collective facebook. Forlines will not provide food on July 3 but plans to continue on the 10th.
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