Remember the plan to provide meals to Newark residents in need: It just served its 500,000th meal

Newark Working Kitchens, an idea hatched by Audible, has kept people fed – and businesses afloat, in a program that easily could be copied elsewhere

It’s truly been a win-win idea.

Newark Working Kitchens, a COVID-19 response that activates Newark’s restaurants to deliver nutritious meals to low-income seniors and families since early April, has been slowly and steadily meeting its need.

Earlier this week, the organization announced it has delivered more than 500,000 meals to more than 10,000 residents across 60 locations. All of the meals are prepared by NWK’s 24 participating restaurants, including minority- and female-owned establishments. Because of it, NWK has sustained hundreds of jobs during the pandemic and helped restaurants relaunch services and rehire staff over the last six months.

Kai Campbell, owner of Veggie Walla, said the program has saved her business.

“Without NWK I wasn’t going to have anything,” he said. “I can’t even describe the feeling of how this program has helped. I’m not making money but I’m able to keep investing in my business because my bills are paid.”

Edwin Rosario, owner of O’LaLa Empanadas, agreed. He said the program has replaced the business he has lost due to businesses working from home.

“We don’t have a lunch rush anymore and that was how we made our money,” he said. “At least 80% of our business comes from Newark Working Kitchens.”

Newark Working Kitchens was launched by Audible, a company that has made improving the lives of the communities in which it operates one of its defining principles. But Audible officials will quickly tell you they don’t deserve all the credit.

NWK has received private and philanthropic support to seed this COVID-19 crisis response effort, including a $500,000 grant from the City of Newark, and donations from Audible, PSEG, TD Bank, New Jersey Devils managing partners Josh Harris and David Blitzer in collaboration with the Devils Care Foundation, and numerous other local businesses and other organizations and individuals.

Audible Founder and Executive Chairman Don Katz said Newark Working Kitchens has been validated as a powerful response model for helping communities through the public health and economic crises wrought by COVID-19.

“We need donors across sectors and giving levels to step up to support this win-win for community members without enough food and independent small businesses, which can stay in business and keep cooks, servers and delivery people working,” he said.

NWK founders are readying a broad campaign to welcome new investment partners across government, corporations and philanthropy to expand the program to meet the small business and food deprivations need in Newark and convey the model throughout New Jersey and beyond.

Chef Marcus Samuelsson, owner of Marcus B&P and Marcus Samuelsson Group as well as one of the leaders of the initiative – said the program is working better than he could have imagined.

“Six months ago, when the pandemic shut down restaurants, it was impossible to imagine the path forward or envision that today we would be reaching this incredible milestone of serving 500,000 meals to those in need here in Newark,” he said. “I’m so proud of our team at Marcus B&P for the quality and care they put into every dish and to all the partners, donors and fellow restaurants working every day to fight food insecurity.”

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said the battle goes on.

“Five hundred thousand NWK meals later and we are still faced with the challenges of the pandemic, so I encourage all of Newark’s corporate citizens to join the consortium of givers as we continue to work together to help our small businesses, protect local jobs and deliver food to our community,” he said.

Former Newark mayor and current U.S. Senator Cory Booker said the model can work anywhere.

“This effort has created a successful model to support the tremendous comeback our city is currently undertaking, and I hope to see this effort scaled in New Jersey and nationwide as a way to continue combatting this pandemic’s health and economic devastation,” he said.

More help is coming.

Two weeks ago, Audible launched its Global Center for Urban Development to expand the company’s community and economic investment. The Center will bring together Audible’s numerous initiatives, including NWK and Audible’s collaboration with the internationally heralded early-stage social impact investment fund Newark Venture Partners.

Audible recently hired Newark economic development leader Aisha Glover to help develop new, scalable models for community investment focused on advancing equality, racial justice and economic empowerment.

As with NWK and NVP, the center will work closely with the City of Newark which guides NWK to determine where meal delivery is needed most and collaborate distribution with tenants associations and a growing list of community organizations including Ironbound Community Corporation, Bridges Outreach, Newark Emergency Services for Families, Palm Street Block Association, Newark Homeless Coalition, NJCRI/Crossroads Drop-in Center, Tree House Cares, Willing Heart Community Care Center, Clinton Hill Community Action and the YMCA. For more information email or donate here.

Current participating NWK restaurants, many of which are part of Audible’s Lunch Out Wednesday program, include: Andros Restaurant & Diner, Barcade, Blueprint Café, Bulgogi Zip, City Rub Smokehouse, Fresh Coast, Harvest Table, Kilkenny Alehouse, King’s Family Restaurant & Catering, King’s #1 Family Restaurant, La Cocina, Lit 21, Marcus B&P, McGovern’s Tavern, Mercato Tomato Pie/Novelty Burger, Nizi Sushi, O’LaLa Empanadas, Panzz Seafood & Wings, Pita Square, Robert’s Pizza, Sigri Indian BBQ, The Halal Guys, Uncle Willie’s Wings and Veggie Walla.

Amina Bey, executive director of Newark Emergency Services for Families, said it’s an example of a community coming together.

“I’ve learned that corporations and non-profits can work together hand-in-hand for the sake of the people with the same goals and the same objectives,” she said. “Newark Working Kitchens has helped so many people get through their darkest hour, but the need keeps growing as this crisis marches on.”

Daniela Hoyos, co-owner of Fresh Coast, said it’s mean something more: Safety and security for working families.

“Our staff can rest easy now that they have their jobs and know their families are going to be okay,” he said.