Wildfires took a heavy toll on life in Southern Oregon recently and more than 4,000 people were suddenly food insecure. In the face of widespread displacement and hunger, one local charity, Rogue Food Unites, quickly coalesced as the coordinating body to help feed thousands. They are on track to deliver more than 500,000 meals by Winter 2021 and support an already lagging food economy.

What is Rogue Food Unites?

Generous donations from renowned Chef Jose Andres’ World Central Kitchen and the Red Cross, were key linchpins to the hasty formation of Rogue Food Unites.

The visionary team members for this community-driven meal program were Ashland chef and restaurant owner, Jamie North of Mix Bakeshop and Remix Coffee Bar; Sammich Restaurants owner Melissa McMillan; Ashland resident and James Beard award-winning  author and activist, Adam Danforth; and Amber Ferguson, local hospitality and service industry expert

Rogue Food Unites

Rogue Food Unites community participants. Image: Rogue Food Unites.

The nonprofit organization serves as the chief coordinating body for local restaurants, farms, and cultural organizations to provide displaced individuals across Southern Oregon with free, high-quality hot meals on a large scale. Volunteers and local relief organizations work together to distribute the meals where they are needed.

Disaster Relief Benefits Local Food Businesses

Not only is Rogue Food Unites helping to provide free meals, but they are also providing much needed business to a food economy under serious threat from the COVID-19 pandemic. From prolonged shut-downs to reduced seating capacity and other issues, many local restaurants are struggling to stay busy. 

As notable members of the Southern Oregon food scene, Rogue Food Unites team is doing what they can to make sure that the local restaurant industry stays strong and intact. To this end, the majority of meals are sourced from local, independent restaurants, farms and food-related businesses, with occasional support from franchised outlets.

Rogue Food Unites Masala

Sachta Bakshi Card, co-owner of Masala Bistro and Bar, cooking dinner for wildfire evacuees in Southern Oregon. Image: The Local Dish

Currently, the organization is partnered with over thirty independent restaurants in the Rogue Valley including popular food destinations like Masala Bistro and Bar, Amuse, Common Block Brewing Company, Buttercloud Bakery and Cafe, Daddy Ramen, Curbside King mobile food kitchen, and FLAVOR Restaurant, among others. By providing local restaurants with up to two thousand orders every day, Rogue Food Unites is doing their part to make sure Southern Oregon restaurants stay cooking.

Investing in the Community

With the main goal of saving food businesses, Rogue Food Unites has a holistic plan to benefit their entire community by addressing hunger during emergencies. According to the Independent Restaurant Coalition, about 65% of the revenue earned from local, independent restaurants is circulated back into the regional economy. Because independent restaurants tend to spend money in their own communities, a large percentage of restaurant revenue goes directly to local bakers, fishermen, wineries, farms, and other food-related businesses.

The group hopes that meeting their ambitious goal of 500,000 meals will simultaneously recirculate as much as $6 million back into the local economy. Altogether, these numbers mean a huge boost for the Southern Oregon food and beverage industry and relief for many wildfire survivors.

According to their website, Rouge Food Unites views every new farm, restaurant, or local organization they work with as “a new well of untapped community strength and resiliency.” In the end, they are helping Southern Oregon farms and restaurants do what they do best; “feed hungry people.” 

Update: #RogueFoodUnites recently assumed all responsibility for feeding wildfire evacuees in Jackson, Josephine, Klamath, Douglas, and Deschutes counties. Volunteers and donations are needed to ensure every person who needs a hot meal receives one. Made by locally-owned restaurants and delivered by local residents.