Feature photo: Jordan Keiper (left) with Providence Kitchen sous chef, Chef Terrell

Jordan Keiper works to feed 800 people each day.

As director of service for Second Harvest Foodbank and Providence Kitchen and Catering in Winston-Salem, Keiper has kept himself busy since the start of the pandemic.

“We created a whole new business idea on March 23,” he says during a recent phone call.

After Providence Kitchen closed its location at the downtown BB&T building in early March, Keiper said he began thinking about using the space to help feed the hundreds of service industry workers who were now, suddenly, out of jobs.

“We just started thinking about how hospitality workers were going to eat and how their families were going to eat,” he says. “A lot of hospitality folks live day to day, especially servers.”

Using donations from the food bank, large food companies like US Foods and Cisco, as well as businesses like Joyce Farms, Keiper and dozens of staff members and volunteers began cooking hundreds of hot meals every day to give out for free to local workers. They call it the “Heard Kitchen.”

“When we first started this, we thought, we do it for a week or two weeks,” he says.

Now, more than a month later, Keiper says Heard serves about 800 meals per day.

The meals are split up between the location in Winston-Salem and the Interactive Resource Center, a homeless day shelter in Greensboro. Those in need can also pick up bags of produce packed by volunteers using donations from the food bank and the community.

“A majority of the people, about 60 or 70 percent, are hospitality workers,” Keiper says. “The rest of them are the general public. It’s been amazing. A lot of people have come to us and said, ‘We wouldn’t be able to feed our families if it wasn’t for you guys.’ And that’s the exact reason why we do this.”

In the past few weeks they’ve made a grilled ham steak with honey-soy glaze and a side of roasted broccoli, with wild-rice pilaf. A beef brisket donation resulted in a barbecue plate with a baked potato, chili and a side of vegetables. Last week, they made an udon-noodle stir fry.

Part of the fun is coming up with the meals that are not only tasty but are able to be made in huge amounts to accommodate the growing need, Keiper says.

“Being 100 percent donation driven, we get random things that come in all of the time,” he says. “And then we have chefs looking at them and say we can make this, or we can make that. We have 300 whole chickens coming in tomorrow, so we have to think about not only how we store the chickens but also how we prepare them the best to feed the most people.”

Recently, the crew started making meals for doctors and nurses in COVID-19 units at Forsyth Medical Center and Baptist Hospital.

“It’s a huge operation and typically it would take a large amount of people to accomplish all of this,” Keiper says. “But we have a large amount of people who have come in to volunteer with us. We have about nine people every day.”

And while Keiper says he feels inspired by his work, the decision to oversee such a large endeavor hasn’t been without its drawbacks.

“My wife has three children, and we made the conscious decision, because we are out in the public, to let them stay with their father,” Keiper says. “That was one of the hardest parts that we had to choose but it’s also one of the smartest things we had to do. We didn’t want our kids to get sick.”

Keiper says he last saw his stepkids in person on March 15. Since then, he and his wife have been doing phone calls, but, of course, it’s not the same.

“I miss fixing them breakfast in the morning,” he says. “I miss being able to spoil them. It’s been a battle, but we have to sacrifice right now because what we’re doing is helping far more people than we could imagine.”

To find out more about Heard or to donate time, money or food, check out this form.

Jordan at-a-glance:

  • Favorite thing eaten in quarantine: My favorite experience so far was at the end of the first day at Heard, we ended up having a family staff meal. We had been working so, so hard and we decided to get tacos from El Rancho Taqueria. And we’re all sitting around and eating these tacos and I sat back and thought, This is cool. This is something that we’re doing that’s awesome.
  • Quarantine silver lining: Seeing people lose their jobs is hard. Seeing people let go is hard. But seeing the people that have been let go and come and want to volunteer for and give back to the community is something that’s absolutely beautiful. There’s something to be said about people who lose something and want to give back. That say, ‘I’ve lost my job but how can I help?’
  • What are you watching/reading/listening to: At the end of the day, I’ll get into a show called “Songland” on NBC. It’s about songwriters trying to make it big. I’ve watched it a couple of times now and it’s one I keep going back to.
  • Words of encouragement: Yes, this is hard for us right now, but we’re getting stronger and we’re becoming a better community because of this. We’re going to come out of this better and stronger.

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