Vallie Gilley was looking to create a zero-waste, sustainability catering business when she opened O’side Kitchen Collaborative with a mission of raising awareness about food waste by using nothing but perfectly edible surplus food that supermarkets, farms and restaurants routinely discard.

When COVID-19 hit though, O’side Kitchen Collaborative had to pivot, and fast.

With unprecedented stay-at-home orders in place, the O’side Kitchen Collaborative took the 180,000 pounds of rescued food it was collecting from restaurants forced to close their doors, surplus food from farms, gleaning organizations and other food businesses, and purchased additional supplies from distributors such as Sysco and US Foods.

Thanks to the help of hundreds of volunteers and numerous furloughed restaurant workers hired by the Collaborative, the nonprofit – initially supported by a $500,000 grant from the City of Oceanside – was cooking as many as 1,500 meals per day for the rising number of food insecure residents. During the first four months of the pandemic, more than 250,000 meals were prepared at the industrial-size kitchen from where nonprofits such as North County Health Services, Oceanside Homeless Resource, and Lived Experiences pick them up for delivery to their clients.

Fueled in part by a $100,000 grant from the San Diego COVID-19 Community Response Fund at The San Diego Foundation, O’side Kitchen Collaborative has been able to whip up hundreds of thousands of free, quality meals for an exploding number of suddenly unemployed and food-insecure residents of North County.

“We’re in a time of uncertainty and a time of need,” Gilley explained. “Our kitchen has been able to feed nutritious meals to community members who need it the most, including our elderly, our immune compromised and our homeless San Diegans.”  

Even before COVID-19, food insecurity was a growing challenge within the region. According to a 2019 San Diego County Report, 1 in 7 adults face food insecurity every day.

The COVID-19 Community Response Fund has been critical for nonprofits such as O’side Kitchen Collaborative since the coronavirus pandemic began overwhelming the region.

With a focus on eliminating food waste and addressing food insecurity in the region, O’side Kitchen Collaborative has been able to play a significant role in aiding families impacted by COVID-19. Gilley shares that the effort is particularly inspiring when working with the numerous volunteers who have stepped up to help their fellow San Diegans.

Army veteran Robert Johnson is one of the volunteers who keeps coming back to help. He’s been delivering O’side Kitchen Collaborative-prepared meals for Calvary Chapel Oceanside’s food ministry for months. “It’s an amazing blessing to be able to help,” Johnson said. “Not only are you blessing others by helping, but you’re being blessed in the process. You can see firsthand how appreciative the community is.”

Residents like Johnson have contributed more than 6,000 volunteer hours to date and their efforts continue to uplift the work of O’side Kitchen Collaborative.

Gilley also shared, “We’ve even hired laid off restaurant workers who could have made more money had they stayed home and collected unemployment but they chose to work here because of the amazing mission we’re on.”

Help families impacted by COVID-19 by donating today.