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May
22
2024
Food

Carl Moore and Jim Zehner will launch the first "Who's Hungry?" free community meal event Monday, May 13, at MAZU. (Image by congerdesign from Pixabay)

‘Who’s Hungry?’ — New project serves free food to all

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Ed. note: This story has been corrected from its original version, which appeared in the May 3 print edition.

In December last year, longtime local residents Carl Moore and Jim Zehner announced their intention to offer free meals to those who need them in the village by way of their newly formed nonprofit organization, “Who’s Hungry?”

This month, “Who’s Hungry?” will take its first steps into testing Moore and Zehner’s concept, with an opening event Monday, May 13, at MAZU.

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Moore is a chef with three decades of kitchen experience who, with Zehner, owned and operated CJ’s Southern Cooking on Xenia Avenue in 2010 and ’11. The duo’s ultimate desire, they told the News in a recent interview, is to use their experience feeding people to address a need that’s increasingly apparent in the village and the wider Miami Valley.

“This is not just for people in town — we’d like to reach out to all of Greene County,” Moore said, noting that he and Zehner often donate to the free-standing Little Free Pantries in town — only to see them depleted hours later.

“The need is there,” Zehner agreed, adding that “Who’s Hungry?” has been working with the YS Community Foundation as a fiscal agent to receive donations for the cause.

“We were thinking we would need to find a lot of statistics to go to [the foundation] for support — but they looked out the window of their [former] office on Dayton Street and saw homeless people,” Zehner said. “We didn’t have to convince them this is a problem that’s worth getting into.”

Noting existing programs like the Beloved Community Project’s monthly meals at First Presbyterian Church and the library’s after-school snacks and summer meals for kids, Moore and Zehner said the nonprofit’s initial goal was to find a space in town where all such programs could be sited and support one another. They had, at the end of last year, considered a space at Millworks, but the costs of renting such a space — and constructing a new kitchen inside — would have required more money than the nonprofit had raised.

“Finding a spot like that could be in the foreseeable future,” Moore said. “But we’re lucky that MAZU is willing to give us this day to get off the ground and see how the community reacts to it.”

In addition to support from the YS Community Foundation and independent donations, “Who’s Hungry?” is also working to collaborate with the Dayton Food Bank, which has communicated that it may provide support to the operation if the local nonprofit meets certain requirements for the May 13 event and beyond.

Requirements include the renewal of Moore and Zehner’s ServSafe Manager Certification of food safety knowledge, which they had already acquired as former restaurant owners. Also required is data-tracking on the number of people who enter the building to receive food on May 13; for this reason, the nonprofit can’t deliver food to those who are unable to come to MAZU in person.

“In order for it to be counted, people have to come and get it,” Moore said.

“But people can take the food and eat it wherever they want,” Zehner added. “And there’s no restriction on coming back and getting seconds.”

Moore and Zehner said that, for now, “Who’s Hungry?” will truly be a “soup kitchen,” with the two using the MAZU kitchen’s conduction stove top to cook and/or heat soups and stews, with a vegetarian option available. The menu itself will depend on community donations. If the May 13 event goes well, they added, they hope to eventually offer the free meals on an ongoing basis.

“We’re definitely counting on donations to help keep this going,” Moore said.

Those donations could be in the form of funding support through the YS Community Foundation, or via volunteer efforts. Moore and Zehner said they welcome help with food preparation and serving, equipment, data-tracking and clean-up after the event has ended.

“One way we can show our gratitude to MAZU is to leave their facility sparkling clean at the end of the day,” the pair wrote in a recent press release, which noted that MAZU has donated their kitchen for use during one of the days the restaurant is not open, and urged folks to visit the restaurant during its own open hours as well.

“When you support MAZU, you support us,” Moore and Zehner wrote.

In a post to the nonprofit’s Facebook page earlier this year, Moore said part of his motivation for founding “Who’s Hungry?” was his own experience with homelessness and hunger as a young man in Atlanta, Georgia.

“I got a cooking job so I could eat,” Moore wrote. “I eventually became a chef. But I have never forgotten what it was like to be homeless and hungry.”

In speaking with the News, Moore added that, in his experience, food insecurity is more prevalent than many are aware, and encompasses not only having enough food, but the kinds of food to which people have access.

“You don’t have to be homeless to be hungry — sometimes kids coming out of school have to wait until their parents get off work to buy them something to eat; sometimes elders are eating frozen dinners so they can have a hot meal,” he said. “We can give them a nice, home-cooked meal.”

With that in mind, Moore stressed that there are no prerequisites to attending the inaugural “Who’s Hungry?” event May 13 — everyone is welcome.

“If you’re hungry, come get something to eat,” he said.

“Who’s Hungry?” will serve food to all who attend Monday, May 13, 3–7 p.m. at MAZU, located at 229 Xenia Ave. To donate to the nonprofit, go to bit.ly/WhosHungryYS. For more information on the nonprofit, go to facebook.com/whos.hungry.ys. To contact Moore and Zehner about volunteer options, call 937-609-2382 or 937-609-2067.

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