Wheelhouse’s Essential Meals Project teams up with Easthampton Community Center

  • Will Van Heuvelen, of Wheelhouse, cooks broccolini. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 5/25/2020 9:10:51 AM

EASTHAMPTON — An Amherst-based catering and events company has teamed up with the Easthampton Community Center to feed people in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wheelhouse, which sources local meat and produce from farms in and around western Massachusetts, has been feeding frontline workers since April as part of its Essential Meals Project, which aims to “provide healthy meals to health care workers in our local hospitals, nursing homes, and other health care facilities in Western Massachusetts,” according to the company’s website.

Will Van Heuvelen, who co-owns Wheelhouse with Jake Mazar, said that the company had been looking to open up a restaurant or cafe in the old Lumber Yard Restaurant space in Amherst this year before the pandemic intervened. Since then, they’ve decided to put the space to work, using it to provide meals made with local ingredients to frontline workers and those in need during the pandemic. Among other places, they’ve delivered meals to the Springfield Boys & Girls Club, the Franklin Community Meals Project and nursing homes in the area.

“There’s a lot of people who are hurting out there,” said Van Heuvelen, who noted that, as of Friday, they had raised more than $27,000, most of which goes to paying their employees and buying ingredients. At that time, Van Heuvelen said that 2,100 meals had been served.

Essential Meals first collaborated with the Easthampton Community Center on Wednesday, and Robin Bialecki, the center’s executive director, characterized the experience as a success. Wednesday’s meals, which featured either meat or veggie lasagna and homemade cookies, were served during the center’s regular Wednesday grocery distribution, and all 250 meals were distributed.

“Who doesn’t like lasagna?” Bialecki said. 

The grocery distribution occurs weekly on Mondays and Wednesdays, from 9 a.m. to noon and from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., and Bialecki said that the center used the lasagna meals to encourage people to take part.

“We were encouraging people who came to get a bag of groceries as well,” Bialecki said.

Next up at the Easthampton Community Center, Van Heuvelen said that they’re thinking of incorporating chicken stock donated by Sutter Meats into a chicken-based soup. They’re also looking to feature locally grown beets and sweet potatoes.

Van Heuvelen noted that food insecurity won’t go away when the COVID-19 pandemic ends, and he said that as long as donations continue, Wheelhouse wants to offer their meals, including at the Community Center.

Every donation of $12 provides one fresh meal, $60 provides five meals, $120 provides 10 meals, $240 provides 20 meals and $600 provides 50 meals.

“If we can raise the money, we’ll definitely be doing it, indefinitely,” Van Heuvelen said.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com. To learn more about the Essential Meals Project, visit wheelhousefarm.com/essentialmealsproject.

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