Because Feeding People Isn’t The Same As Nourishing Them
ahatma Gandhi once said that a nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members. And did you know that nearly one in four residents live in poverty in Orange County? Or that nearly two-thirds of local jobs don’t pay enough for a worker to rent a one-bedroom apartment? Currently, the cost of living in OC is 85 percent above the national average, but its median income is only 42 percent higher than the nation’s median. With these statistics, you don’t have to look far to see those that are affected by poverty in our community. Bill Bracken, Founder of Bracken’s Kitchen, knows this fact all too well, as he is at the forefront of the conversation doing his part. Bracken’s Kitchen is serving up hot meals to those in need all around Orange County. (You may have seen Bill’s bright red food truck on the road, Betsy!) If you’re anything like Bill, you cannot sit idly by while people are in need and when you are at a capacity to help, “What is important to me is what ignoring those in need does to us as a people and a nation.” Needless to say, Bill’s compassion is compelling, and most notably, infectious. We needed to find out how it all started and where we could sign up to do our part.
Bill Bracken grew up in a small farming town in Kansas, where the only real employment opportunity, outside of a handful of small local businesses, was working in the fields. Bill had bigger dreams than detasseling corn and picking soybeans. He went to vocational school and then went on to graduate from the Culinary Institute of America and landed a job with Four Seasons Hotel. His culinary background is beyond impressive, loaded with awards, accolades and down right nitty gritty experience with F&B operations. Being honored as Best Chef of the Year for California and having one of his restaurants voted as the 3rd Best Hotel Restaurant in the World is not something to overlook, this chef knows what’s cooking in the kitchen. But more importantly, Bill sees what’s happening in his community, “After watching a lot of friends and just good people lose their jobs during the financial crisis, I saw how the face of poverty and hunger was changing right before my eyes.” Bill decided to part ways from the hotel world, including his high-paying career, to make a difference using food to help others.
“The surest way to ﬁnd yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” — Gandhi
Bracken’s Kitchen provides a trio of services for our community, starting with the ideology that offering a high-quality, tasty meal to someone in need provides an opportunity to reallocate their income for alternatively essential life needs. The Trio of Services Bracken’s Kitchen offers includes training tomorrow’s chefs, feeding those in need, and recovering today’s food. Bracken’s Kitchen quickly learned that a truly lasting impact on someone’s life includes a path that leads them away from the grip of poverty, and with the idea that giving a hand-up and not a handout helped form their Trio of Services. In the kitchen, Bill is training young chefs through his Culinary Training Program and preparing meals to help feed those in need through his Food Truck Feeding Program. Each of these programs works symbiotically with their Recovered Food Program, where they rescue leftover cuisine to help cut down on the massive amounts of food waste that end up in our landfills. To help support these programs, they also provide Catering for a Cause, where you can book Bracken’s Kitchen to cater your next event. Offering catering to the public creates an income stream to help support their other programs, “ We realized early on that we needed to do our part to help support our organization…and sustainability is a major component of a nonprofit and only relying on the good will of others is just not in my DNA,” said Bill. Every dollar of income generated from their catering division stays within their non-profit so you can feel good knowing that as you enjoy a fantastic meal, you are also helping to feed those desperate for a healthy meal, right here in our community.
An incredible group of people makes up the board of directors for Bracken’s Kitchen; Molly Bracken, Susan Sinatra, Michael Owens, Douglas Schonfeld, Yvette Ashlstrom and Michael Pearson. In addition to their board of directors, they also have an enormous amount of support from a lot of really great people, “Our volunteers and donors are the backbones of who we are. I’m just the tool by which they can do the good work that they do,” said Bill. Th at famous saying ‘It takes a village…’ definitely came to mind when I thought about all of the incredibly selfless people it takes to make the dream of a hot meal a reality for so many members of our community. When it comes to the business demands and needs that Bracken’s Kitchen faces, it’s no different than a for-profit business. From your time, talent or treasure, you too can play a significant role in the work that they do. To learn more or get plugged in, please visit their website at www. brackenskitchen.com/help-us-feed/volunteer-information.
“What is important to me is what ignoring those in need does to us as people and a nation.” — Bill Bracken
Orange County is full of individuals and organizations who are caring and eager to help those in need. Second Harvest Food Bank brings nourishment and hope to 335,000 hungry people throughout OC. Orange County Food Bank commits to serving our future by uniting the community to end hunger. From cold weather shelters to the recently opened Courtyard at Civic Center, there are a lot of really great places ready to help provide support. If you know anyone who is facing a crisis, and they don’t know where to turn, tell them to pick up the phone and dial 2-1-1. With phones that are manned 24 hours a day, help is just a phone call away.