HOUSTON – Green flakes of parsley speckled Chef Chris Williams’ apron after he finished garnishing the afternoon’s selection. He paused for a second, using the base of his wrist to adjust the black plastic-framed glasses that had slipped down the mask shielding half of his face.
With precision, he avoided contact with the gloves on his hands, although he couldn’t hide from the steam that fogged his lenses, rising from the roasted chicken he bathed in barbecue sauce. As the clock struck 12, it was time.
“Let’s get the lids,” Williams said to a staff of three, preparing nearly 400 to-go meals for some of Houston’s most vulnerable. “We target assisted living places with the elderly that really need these meals. [Those who] don’t have access to like the food drives done by the food bank and whatnot.”
The meal of barbecue chicken, greens, beans and mashed potatoes is what Williams calls familiar. It’s southern food this renowned chef has mastered to perfection. He serves meals daily at his restaurant, Lucille’s, located in Houston’s Museum District.
Although on this day, the meals are being prepared in a new space — an industrial-sized kitchen in southwest Houston — all to coincide with Williams’ new focus.
“This is Lucille’s 1913 Community Catering Initiative. It was born out if our initial collaboration with World Central Kitchen, which is an initiative by Jose Andrés out of Washington D.C.,” Williams said.
Each morning, Williams and his team prepare hundreds of to-go meals that are delivered to local senior living facilities. Each week, the 1913 Community Catering Initiative delivers thousands of meals.
“A little bit under 5,000 meals per week out of this kitchen and we’re doing it on our own dime,” he said.
Williams began donating the meals after the Coronavirus upended the restaurant industry’s sense of normalcy. He delivered his first meals to a facility in Sunnyside.
“The people that we were delivering to just reminded me of my family. It looked like my uncles, my cousins. They are at greatest risk. They have no transportation,” he said.
That’s why Williams said the deliveries are important.
“That’s kinda dependent on you either having access to information or transportation, you gotta get there and take advantage of it,” he said. “It’s just a real opportunity to keep them safe and to give them some real nutrition and something that’s crafted specifically for them.”
He delivered 150 meals to LBJ Hospital, before driving to W. Leo Daniels Tower on the north side.
Since COVID-19 hit, it has been difficult for some of our seniors to get up, move around, or even have family and friends to come by, according to Demita Mason, the property manager at W. Leo Daniels Tower, a facility with 100 residents.
From the northside to the east of downtown, Williams continued his deliveries. The next stop was at New Hope Housing Harrisburg.
“He showed up and showed out,” said Sarcher Chase-Downing, the property manager.
Most of Chase-Downing’s residents are on a fixed income or no income at all. She said half of those who worked before the pandemic are now unemployed. The meals make a difference, she said.
“Sixty percent of my residents don’t have an income, but they have shelter. So him feeding them is like God sent for us,” she said.
Williams said he plans to continue the daily donations for the indefinite future.
For those who would like to help, call Lucille’s at 713-568-2505. Donations can be made in $10 increments.
“One hundred percent of those dollars will go right into feeding at-risk communities,” Williams said.