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RIO DE JANEIRO – More than a year after the COVID-19 outbreak began, Brazil remains a global hot spot right behind India, the epicenter of the virus. The consequences are devastating: More than half of Brazil’s population is living with some degree of food insecurity. Of those, 19 million are directly facing hunger, according to the Brazilian Research Network on Food and Nutrition Sovereignty and Security.
“It’s an uncontrolled crisis,” said David Hertz, chef and founder of Gastromotiva, a Brazilian-based nonprofit offering vocational kitchen training, nutrition programs, and food education. “It’s lack of a systemic, common effort from the federal, state, and municipality levels to work together. Unemployment, violence, and hunger are even greater now.”
Working remotely from his home in Rio de Janeiro, Hertz is orchestrating a herculean effort to help feed the most vulnerable in Brazil. He’s reaching them through a network of Solidarity Kitchens, a program through which current and former Gastromotiva students prepare meals inside their own homes and have them delivered to nearby communities.
Currently, there are 51 Solidarity Kitchens in Brazil and three in Mexico. Hertz’s goal is to have 54 kitchens open by the end of 2021 and ultimately 108 total. Each location produces and distributes at least 1,500 meals per month.
In many cases, the food provided by Gastromotiva is the only meal of the day for recipients so there’s an emphasis on nutrition as well as taste.
“Right now half the population in Brazil doesn’t know if they are going to have lunch or dinner,” Hertz said. “That’s the size of the problem. We are not only feeding those people once a day, we are providing nutrition with dignity that is deserved.”
Responding to community needs
In 2019 Sealed Air began a three-year partnership with Gastromotiva to address global food security issues and to support the nonprofit’s efforts to further its expansion, education, and workforce development initiatives.
Little did the company know that less than a year later it would be providing additional emergency support to keep Brazilians fed during the pandemic.
When the pandemic hit, Gastromotiva demonstrated its ability to quickly shift and respond to the needs of its communities by establishing the Solidarity Kitchens.
“We wouldn’t have been responsive at the time it was needed if Sealed Air wasn’t with us,” Hertz said. “It would take longer for us to feed more people.”
Gastromotiva provides financial support and training for solidary kitchen cooks and equips them with all the recipes, supplies, packaging, and materials they need to prepare meals. The cooks are required to follow the strict hygiene standards taught in Gastromotiva’s courses.
Participants are also required to take a training course that emphasizes social entrepreneurship. The cooks then commit to sharing this training with at least 25 people in their community. Hertz said he knows most of the cooks and selects them based on their potential to become self-sustaining.
Each cook knows their area best and who needs food the most. Many people receiving the home-cooked meals are homeless and living on the streets. There are also children, seniors, indigenous people, and others who are experiencing food insecurity. The cooks are, in essence, becoming food agents of their community, according to Hertz.
“At Gastromotiva, we trust that the answers to the problems lie with the people who live with those problems,” Hertz said.
A need to do more
With manufacturing facilities in Jaguariuna and Londrina, Brazil plays an important role in Sealed Air’s ability to supply the region with protective food packaging.
“When the pandemic hit, we looked to existing partners such as Gastromotiva to help us support critical needs in the communities where our employees live and work,” said Natalie Fath, Sealed Air’s director of public relations and reputation, who leads the company’s community investment efforts.
“Brazil continues to be one of the hardest hit countries by COVID-19 and with food insecurity soaring, we knew we needed to do more.”
In addition to the company’s humanitarian donation, Sealed Air employees across the globe have contributed to Gastromotiva and other nonprofits that are conducting COVID-19 relief efforts.
“We created COVID-19 giving campaigns in response to our employees asking how they could help. This is just one way we can leverage our global Sealed Air network to make our world better than we found it,” Fath said.
Though created from a crisis, the Solidarity Kitchens are starting to take on their own life and direction. Hertz said he is advancing a new version of the kitchens with the potential for them to become self-sustaining in the near future. He’s looking for ways to ultimately establish 1,000 kitchens across Brazil.
“This is a program that can be implemented inside the community and empower those who live in vulnerable areas to be part of the solution” Hertz said.
Gastromotiva’s objective by the end of the year is to feed 2 million people through all the organization’s various projects.
“This is 10% of one day of everyone who is hungry in Brazil,” he said. “We know we are doing something very meaningful and because of that we need to create a methodology that can be replicated anywhere. That’s really the only way we can contribute.”
About the Author
Pam Davis is editor in chief and brand journalism lead at Sealed Air. She is a former print journalist with experience in editing, media relations, advertising, and corporate communications.