Sonoma Family Meal finds Petaluma at home – Low Calorie Diets Tips

The spark that started Sonoma Family Meal came during the 2017 Tubbs firestorm. There was an immediate need to feed displaced fire victims as well as first responders, and Heather Irwin was receiving calls from local chefs and restaurateurs asking what they could do , To help. A few more disasters later, and her organization is still working hard to alleviate the food shortage. The biggest advancement in this effort has been the addition of a dedicated kitchen and pantry, which recently opened on the north end of Petaluma at Anna’s Seafood’s old location.

Irwin’s previous work as a food writer in Sonoma County put her in the perfect position to know the right people when it came to feeding those in need after the 2017 tragedy. Not a chef per se (although I remember her placing well in a Penngrove pie contest), Irwin’s contribution to SFM was one of the connections. (She writes for Sonoma Media Investments, which includes Argus-Courier, Index-Tribune, North Bay Business Journal, Press Democrat, and Sonoma Magazine.)

Business ground to a halt in Santa Rosa during the 2017 fires, which isn’t the norm for restaurants that are experts at hustle. Restaurateurs wanted to help, and there happened to be a pressing need in their area of ​​expertise – food, so Irwin brought the two together.

“Chefs were keen to feed people, and the exit exits that existed weren’t set up to handle food prepared in the restaurant,” Irwin said. “I have chosen to work with our generous restaurant and farm communities to bring safe, nutritious, and lovingly prepared food to everyone in need. We also knew that many people were afraid to go to emergency shelters or stay with friends or relatives and just needed something to eat.”

She organized volunteers from cooks to prep and coordinated with kitchens across Sonoma County to help with meal prep and delivery. Though Petaluma went to its own efforts to help the onslaught of people fleeing the burn zones, and most restaurants and caterers worked together to make things work, Irwin did the same across the rest of the county.

Rather than give up and return to normal operations after the fires were put out, Sonoma Family Meal remained focused on feeding the hungry while recognizing the need for locally based disaster preparedness for the future. That future would come sooner than anyone thought, since “business as usual” in Sonoma County seems to be a fairly regular occurrence of natural disasters. Rains in early 2019 caused devastating flooding along the Russian River, and this fall was followed by another devastating fire season, both of which left many people dependent on basic necessities.

Although the aftermath of the fires and floods of 2017 and 2019 will continue to have a lasting impact on our economies and those who depend on their jobs, SFM was ideally placed to turn around when the next disaster struck. Two cornerstones of disaster preparedness are the infrastructure and experience to provide effective assistance no matter what type of disaster we face, and SFM has established itself as a focal point in this area.

The pandemic presented a similar need for family meals, but the cause of the emergency itself meant SFM had to change tactics. It was no longer a question of finding community kitchens and volunteers to staff them. The safety measures put in place to slow the spread of the virus were in stark contrast to the normal SFM model of volunteers crammed into communal kitchens, helping where needed.

SFM was forced to turn their model around. During and immediately after the fires, many restaurants were closed or worse – destroyed so they had staff but no restaurant. During the pandemic, physical restaurants were still around but threatened to close due to a lack of business. SFM went from preparing meals in-house to raising and giving money to cash-strapped restaurants in exchange for them preparing the meals they needed. It was a win-win as meals were provided and restaurants were able to keep their key workers busy while they waited out the pandemic.

Petaluma cuisine

The pandemic presented many challenges to SFM’s goal of opening their own facility, but through much perseverance and donations, they were eventually able to secure their new space here in Petaluma. The biggest challenge, according to Irwin, was finding the perfect spot for the kitchen.

“We searched all over the country for two years,” she said. “Our new home in Petaluma was this Goldilocks situation where we had a great landlord who believed in our idea, it had the right zoning, the size was just perfect, it was accessible from both Sonoma and Santa Rosa , and we had a lot of support from locals. We couldn’t be happier to be in Petaluma.”

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