COVID-19 has put a pause on many things, but one St. Louis organization has been able to keep its mission alive despite the pandemic.
Welcome Neighbor STL, which supports and connects refugees from abroad who have moved to St. Louis, uses supper club dinners hosted by members to both raise money for those who cook the meals while creating bonds within the community. When COVID-19 ramped up in Missouri, those typical dinners had to be cancelled, but the organization was able to pivot to be able to keep funds coming in and keep relationships intact with a drive-thru system. Welcome Neighbor STL tested the concept for World Refugee Day back in June, and it was a hit.
"Everybody was really sad because they didn't have the same opportunity to meet other people, to make friends, to practice English," says Jessica Bueler, founder and executive director of Welcome Neighbor. "Now that we've been able to revamp this and to pivot it to drive-thru meals and curbside delivery, now the cooks of course are very excited to be back in the kitchen to be able to share their culture."
Through supper clubs and catering, Syrian refugee Mawda Altayan has found community and economic stability for herself and her family.
Meals are usually distributed from STL Food Works, a commercial kitchen located in the Central West End neighborhood. For $25 per person, you can pick up a meal created by a chef who receives 90 percent of the money raised to help support their families. Coming from varied backgrounds, upcoming meals will feature Syrian, Jordanian and Moroccan cuisines, among others. So far, 13 drive-thru events have raised over $42,000 and served over 1,700 people according to the organization.
In addition to raising funds for those who cook the meals, the organization has also added an option for those who are picking up one of the 150 coveted plates to donate a meal to someone in need. This does not factor into the 150 plates available, but provides another way for Welcome Neighbor STL to support the community during this difficult time.
Bueler says that many times, those who are ordering and picking up the food thank Welcome Neighbor STL for being a way that they can support their community members.
"I think a lot of times, people want to help people in need, they just don't necessarily know how," she says. "So we've been able to open up that channel to be able to connect St. Louisans with immigrant and refugee cooks to feel valued and to be able to share the food and culture from their country with St. Louisans. People, they just love it."
Tickets for each event, which are hosted biweekly, are available on Welcome Neighbor STL's website, along with a full schedule of upcoming events.
Welcome Neighbor STL, welcomeneighborstl.org