By June Naylor
Photos by Ron Jenkins
Where will our next meal come from? It’s a question many are having to ask these days. Carlo Capua and Leah King are helping provide answers.
Beneath glittering chandeliers inside The Woman’s Club of Fort Worth, stacks of aluminum trays filled with lasagna and vegetables fill long folding tables. The ballroom’s carpet is covered for protection, and cases of bottled water are stacked along the edges of the cavernous room. It’s 8:30 a.m. on a weekday, and volunteers, masked and wearing black aprons, already are portioning the food into more aluminum pans and prepping the meals for delivery to those in need.
Instead of the Z’s Café staff serving its tearoom menu and fresh salad bar to dine-in patrons, they are helping feed the people who need it the most.
Ongoing since March, the “crisis meals” project is another way Carlo Capua is serving the community. Since opening Z’s Café & Catering in 2009 with his mom, chef Janet Capua, he has stayed true to the Fort Worth company’s altruistic roots. A social enterprise, the cafe conscientiously employs individuals in need of a second chance — and serves delicious food, as well. But, during the current pandemic, Carlo found himself setting loftier goals.
Realizing school and business closings would push food insecurity to record levels — kids who eat breakfast and lunch at school go hungry if families can’t get to food distribution sites — he launched Z’s crisis meals project in the spring and then reached out for help and expertise.
“Since we started, we sought donations from sponsors — individuals and businesses — to purchase inventory and recruit volunteers who wanted to help but weren’t sure how,” says Capua. “Now, partnering with the United Way of Tarrant County, there’s consistent funding to scale the project up.”
Working closely with the nonprofit also helped him to target some of the higher-need areas in Fort Worth, as well as in Everman and Lake Worth — places where furloughs have been numerous and unemployment rates have been the county’s highest. United Way named the program Feed Tarrant and, since joining forceswith Capua in June, it has supplied nearly 30,000 meals to more than 3,000 families in the first month through curbside distribution at church locations and also direct delivery to homes.
“Food insecurity was already a challenge before COVID. If we can help take that burden off the families’ shoulders then maybe they focus on other needs,” says Leah King, United Way’s CEO. “The Fort Worth ISD has served at least a million meals, but they can only do breakfast and lunch. We wanted to supplement that with dinner, so families are closer to getting nourishment they need.”
The kitchen inside the historic landmark, just south of downtown Fort Worth, has been busy. All the food is prepped on-site; a refrigerated trailer with surplus inventory sits in the parking lot behind the building. About 150 volunteers gather to prepare, package and deliver thousands of meals.
“In working with Carlo, we see that the families get home cooking, with hot and cold family-style meals,” says King. “His organizing of staff and volunteers has been a monumental feat from a logistics perspective. We’re fortunate that he’s such a dedicated member of our board and the community, too.”
United Way has solicited hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund Feed Tarrant thus far, says King. Facebook, the company, was among the primary donors, as were various families who wish to remain anonymous. Now, as the school year approaches, the agency awaits notification on a grant proposal it submitted for assistance from the federal CARES Act Provider Relief Fund to carry the Feed Tarrant project into the fall and beyond.
“What keeps us up at night is that we might have to pause this due to funding and resources,” King admits. “A lot of people need to know this is a real thing, that food is sorely needed.”
For his part, Capua — who’s studying for a master’s degree in international relations from Harvard University and is also the local Rotary Club president — aims to plow ahead with Feed Tarrant. “When people are hungry, we see significant spikes in crime, abuse and mental health issues, among other things. Lending a hand is in the DNA of our community, especially in Fort Worth and Tarrant County,” says Capua. “If we focus on supporting, and even outgiving, each other, we’ll make it through this period of uncertainty together much faster.”