Restaurateur Fights Food Insecurity One Refrigerator At A Time

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Mark Bucher, co-owner of Medium Rare, is taking a new approach to tackling hunger.

On March 6, 2020, Bucher started delivering free Medium Rare meals to older people who could not easily access food during the coronavirus quarantine. COVID-19 had not officially arrived in the DMV yet, but Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials said people with a compromised immune system, or those over 70, should stay inside.

“My father, who passed away a few years ago, was 82, and it immediately struck me that if he was quarantined inside his apartment, it would become a very difficult situation for my younger sister and myself to care for him,” Bucher said.

“He doesn’t Instacart anything, he doesn’t Amazon grocery anything, he doesn’t order anything from Amazon. So, it would be a real problem to make sure he had food. And I simply put a tweet out saying if anyone knows of anyone in this situation, Medium Rare would deliver a free dinner to them, no questions asked,” Bucher said.

Medium Rare delivered their prix fixed menu – steak frites with a mixed green salad and artisan bread – typically sold for nearly $25 a plate.

Between March and December 2020, Medium Rare — which has locations in D.C., Maryland and Virginia — delivered over 30,000 meals to DMV residents over 70.

Originally, Bucher, 53, and his business partners paid for every meal. “We didn’t care… our business became a humanitarian business as opposed to a hospitality business. We had the ability to do it. We wanted to keep our employees working, so we just rallied around feeding those who needed food and worried about the rest later,” Bucher said.

“The things they teach you in business school kind of went out the window when we knew we were surrounded by hungry people,” Bucher said.

Beginnings of Feed the Fridge

When public schools announced in August 2020 that classes would continue online, Bucher’s vision for the organization changed. He worried how kids who rely on free and reduced meals would access food.

While he continued to provide food for the elderly, he created Feed the Fridge, a non-profit organization. Feed the Fridge combats food insecurity while helping small businesses survive the pandemic.

He reached out to connections in D.C. Public Schools to look into placing a refrigerator stocked with meals in the recreational centers the school system set up as Wi-FI hotspots.

“I simply said, ‘Can I put a refrigerator there and put meals for these kids.’ And D.C. said ‘Sure. How soon can you go?’ That’s kind of how we started, we started putting refrigerators in these rec centers for these kids and filling them with Medium Rare meals, just so they have something to eat,” Bucher said.

Refrigerator Locations

Currently, there are 26 participating restaurants and more than 20 refrigerators in recreational centers, D.C. Public Schools and the Smithsonian Museums. There are also refrigerators outside of certain public schools in Montgomery County, Maryland. As it continues to expand, Feed the Fridge will soon be outside every D.C. Public Library.

Mission and Organization

Feed the Fridge raises money to buy refrigerators and meals from local restaurants. Restaurants get $6 for every meal they provide. It costs $1,000 to buy a refrigerator and $900 to fill it each day. The Washington Nationals loaned Feed the Fridge their first six refrigerators last year, and Bucher says every dollar the group raises goes to buy refrigerators or pay for food.

“Feed the fridge is a 100 percent volunteer organization. So, everything we have goes to the solution,” Bucher said.

He wants Feed the Fridge to be a dignified solution to food insecurity. “The rule is it’s got to be a meal that is served in the restaurant, so people are getting a dignified meal. We’ve taken the concept of food insecurity, which is really a fancy way of saying hungry, to meal security knowing that there will be meals every day in the fridge,” Bucher said.

“We don’t care if someone takes 1, 10 or 100. If you need it, take it. It’s kind of our philosophy. We don’t want sign up sheets, we don’t want qualifying events, because that deters a lot of people from a dignity standpoint. So just come take what you need,” Bucher said.

Additionally, each meal follows nutritional standards. They are composed of 33 percent all natural protein, 33 percent starch or carbohydrate and 33 percent green vegetables, Bucher said. Medium Rare itself provides a steak salad with a side of bread….”

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