As COVID-19 has spread across the country, many restaurants have stepped up to provide meals for the healthcare workers fighting on the frontlines of the virus.
Brothers Mike and Matt Ratz, who own UKRAFT, which operates a food truck and fast-casual café in Clayton, were among the initial wave of restaurants to shift their operations this spring. About a week before COVID hit in the St. Louis area, they switched their focus to offering family-style microwaveable meals including chicken Parmesan, baked mostaccioli and blackened grouper with mashed potatoes and vegetables.
"With the kids being home from school, parents are becoming teachers now," Matt says. "Cooking does take time; it takes preparation, and these are easy meals where you can just throw it in the microwave for 3 minutes and go."
Soon after, the brothers decided to temporarily close the UKRAFT storefront in Clayton (which has since reopened for curbside carryout) and their food truck business came to a screeching halt as offices began to close. With their focus shifted away from restaurant operations, they decided to offer an even more convenient option in the form of a Family Essentials Meal Kit filled with deli meats and cheese, a loaf of bread, a dozen cage-free eggs and a gallon of milk, along with necessities for the COVID-19 era, including hand sanitizer, toilet paper and face masks.
The fast-casual café serves paninis, avocado toasts and grain bowls.
To thank the medical community for their efforts, UKRAFT began delivering meals to hospitals and homes of local healthcare workers, but Matt and Mike quickly realized that there was a major need for these essential groceries in other parts of the community.
"The healthcare workers right now are the true heroes," Matt says. "The attention is extremely deserved, in my opinion – it shows the appreciation of what they’re doing for us right now, risking their lives every day, and possibly their family’s lives, by coming in contact with this crazy contagious virus every single day. They deserve it. But we also didn’t want to forget about the people that are maybe getting a little neglected right now, and that’s the families in need."
With that in mind, UKRAFT has teamed up with Bertarelli Cutlery & Paper Co., 590 THE FAN and the Robertson Pecher Real Estate Team to offer their Family Essentials Kit to low-income, high-risk individuals in the St. Louis area. UKRAFT is working closely with Big Brothers Big Sisters and Birdies4Bipolar to identify those in need, including homebound veterans, low-income families and those dealing with addiction and mental illness.
"The unemployment rate is what it is and public transportation pretty much came to a stop; a lot of these families don’t have vehicles and they rely on the public transportation to go to the grocery store," Matt says. "Plus, school lunches were provided in that budget and that was a meal that monetarily [many families] didn’t have to think about. Well, that’s been stripped away from them. It just opened my eyes to a lot of things, so we’re kind of gearing our focus in that direction."
To send a meal or essentials kit to a healthcare worker or someone in need, you can make a donation through UKRAFT's Venmo or GoFundMe. Donations can be made in any dollar amount – "every dollar counts," Matt says – and donors can specify where they'd like their money to go when making a donation.
"Just today, I got an urgent email from Big Brothers Big Sisters saying a family of five had just gotten ahold of them; they had no transportation to get anything and they have no food," Matt says. "We’re rushing a Family Essential Kit and meals down to them today. The good thing about our meals is it's not just their lunch or dinner for one day; they're good for four days, so we can stockpile them up. We're knocking out 20 meals for them so they've got lunch and dinner covered for a while."
To learn more, visit ukrafteats.com/essentials-stl-outreach.