Local group helps people experiencing food insecurities while keeping restaurants afloat

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed some disparities in many communities, among them food insecurities. And some Asbury Park residents are tackling this issue while helping to keep areas restaurants open for business.
“It's been so rewarding for me to go and drop off the meals while we're also supporting the restaurant,” says Lindsay Distasio, of Sami’s Mediterranean Street Food.
Distasio manages the restaurant. She says that like many other businesses, they took a hit during the pandemic.
“It’s just been Sami and I for the past two years. That’s it, just incredibly hard,” Distasio says.
With restaurants resuming close-to-normal business, Sami’s is also dealing with a staffing shortage. The restaurant is currently only offering takeout and delivery.
This is where Asbury Park Dinner Table comes in.
“We saw that there was going to be a big need in the community of Asbury Park in terms of food insecurity and also supporting our restaurants, which is kind of the engine of our local economy,” says Asbury Park Dinner Table’s Joe Grillo.
Asbury Park Dinner Table got to work, taking private donations and grant money, paying restaurants to create dinner meals and the restaurants deliver those meals to distribution points like churches or at the restaurants.
“I don't know how we would have survived through everything without it,” Distasio says. “It's been a tremendous help, I'm so thankful for Asbury Park Dinner Table.”
A third of Asbury Park's population is either at or below the poverty line. During the pandemic, that population grew to include, but was not limited to people working in food service and the restaurant or hospitality industries.
“In terms of the people that came, to get a meal, to get a few meals for their family, it's not just people that are already in the system. It's folks that for the first time, they felt food insecurity,” Grillo says.
Asbury Park Dinner table has been feeding the community while keeping restaurants afloat since March 2020. The group has already given out over 150,000 meals in Asbury Park. Residents looking for a meal can find the Asbury Park Dinner Table stickers in the windows of participating restaurants. There are no requirements to get a meal, and no identification is needed.
“We like to say you can drive up in a Mercedes-Benz or in a shopping cart, you're going to get fed. No questions asked,” says Grillo.
More information can be found on the Asbury Park Dinner Table website.