Akron chefs put food on the table for other restaurant workers

Reporting and writing by Emily Anderson

When restaurants were ordered to close their doors in March to reduce the spread of COVID-19, chef John Taylor of Lock 15 Brewing Co. knew he had to use his resources to help the families who were suddenly unemployed. He, together with a small team of industry pros, started Feed Your Neighbors. 

Their goal is to keep hope and humanity alive in Akron, one hot pan of food at a time.

Feeding people is what Chef John lives for. He loves it and he’s good at it. It was instinct for him to try and put food on tables when he saw many people in his industry lose their jobs. People were out of work and out of money, and many had families to feed.

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Their first food giveaway was to Lock 15 employees. “Everything just stopped,” John remembers. “We had to do something to help.”

Feed Your Neighbors began when Chef John, along with a small team including Frank Zifer, Amy Ayers, and Ari Vandendriessch, decided to prepare and give away 300 four-person meals on the corner of Main and Market Streets every week in April. They were targeting the service industry workers downtown who had lost their jobs. 

After a few weeks, they realized that a lot of these bartenders and cooks were picking up food not for themselves, but for their families and neighbors. This is when they decided they needed to reach out to the Akron community at large. 

Since then, Feed Your Neighbors has prepared enough food to feed 20,000 people. They’ve handed out meals at schools, churches and the Akron Zoo. They’ve collaborated with organizations like the I Promise School and Stepping Stone Community Services to connect with local families. One month, they prepared and gave away 1,000 pounds of pasta and 48 gallons of cheese sauce. 

They try to keep the dinners that they prepare simple, family-friendly and hearty. 

“The meals are heavy on starch and protein and always include veggies. They’re designed to fill up everyone’s bellies,” John says. 

Feed Your Neighbors doesn’t just want to give you some food. They want to give you a home-cooked meal that you can share with your family. They want to offer you a moment of human interaction — a smile, a high-five, a laugh. They want you to know that someone cares about you. You matter. You’re not in this alone. 

Their team has formed a bond that they all expect to last for a lifetime. Chef John’s own kids have also been affected — his 16-year-old wrote an essay on the project from which they get their slogan: “A Heartful of Hope and a Handful of Humanity.”

The Feed your Neighbors team works on a volunteer basis. They are supported by private individuals and sponsors, including Lock 15 Brewing Company, Riley Hotel Group, Atlantic Food Distributors and Pride One Construction Company. 

As for the future of FYN, Chef John says, “there is no end game.” As long as they have volunteers and support, they will continue cooking for Akron. 

You can follow them on social media to see where the next food drop or event will be. They’re currently working on a fundraising event at the beginning of November and they plan on having big giveaways for Thanksgiving and the holidays. 

Come pick up some food, and grab some for your neighbor! 

Emily Anderson thought about Lock 15’s chicken wings the entire time she was writing this article. 

Photos: Used with permission from Feed Your Neighbors.