Local Chefs Pay It Forward To Help Struggling Families



Heard of “pay it forward”? You should — they filmed a movie about it here. 

But a local couple and a huge network of chefs are taking the concept to a new level.

It involves some random ingredients, 24 to-go containers, a positive message and a team of volunteers. 

The goal: to give those struggling through the pandemic some extra nourishment — and a little boost of hope.   

Matt Fresinski is the Corporate Executive Chef for V&E Restaurant Group and the co-founder of 24Meals. He told KNPR's State of Nevada that the idea for the service started when he was cleaning out his pantry.

"As a chef, I find it incredibly disturbing to throw anything away that is edible," he said. 

So, as a family project, he bought some to-go boxes, cooked up 24 meals from the food in his pantry and distributed them to people he knew who were struggling.

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"Those 24 meals were gone by the end of the day to people in need," he said, "So, I made some more and I made another round. As we started feeding people, those people wanted to give back to us."

They started receiving donations of money and food from other people's pantries.

"My wife and I, we sat down and realized that this is getting really big, to the point where we started feeding entire families every week," he said.

At that point, they got connected with Chefs 4 Vegas, which distributes produce boxes to people in need. The organization gave produce boxes to Fresinski so they could deliver them to anyone who either could not leave the house or didn't feel safe leaving.

When Fresinski returned to work in June, he wanted to keep up the work. So, he decided to tap into the network of chefs around the valley to help.

Now, after one chef completes 24 meals, he or she nominates another chef to take part.

To make it even more interesting and challenging, Fresinski and his wife decided to create a mystery box of donated ingredients that includes proteins, produce and starches - and one donated item from the previous chef's pantry.

"As a chef, when I create the mystery box, in my head, I'm like, this is what I would do and when we get it to the chef and it comes back, and it's something completely different than I would have ever thought to do. It is always surprising," he said.

For instance, one chef had two pounds of wasabi powder in his mystery box. Fresinski was not sure what the chef was going to do with that ingredient, but he dusted pecans in wasabi powder and sugar then incorporated them into vegan muffins. Fresinski got to sample the muffins and said they were delicious.

Most chefs turn the meals around within 24 hours and then an army of volunteers distributes them to families in need in just a few hours. Fresinski has turned the spare room in his home into a pantry with freezers, refrigerators and shelves to store the donated food.

Chef Louiie Victa participated in the 24meals effort. Victa was given tri-tip steak and ground beef. There was no way she was going to grind up a steak. So, she decided to make 48 meals -- 24 portions of beef salpicao with the tri-tip and 24 portions of chili with the ground beef.

"It's not a lot of work," she said. "I feel like the rewards far outweigh the work. It is so much fun for a chef." 

The program helps eliminate food waste, keeps chefs' skills sharp and provides meals for people in need - all at the same time, Victa said.

"It's a fantastic way to spend an afternoon, honing in on your skills and creativity, and having these surprise mystery boxes [is] a great way to spend a good afternoon helping out other people," she said.

Victa believes the pandemic has taught a lot of people about going back to basics - and back to each other.

"People are starting to look towards community. We're out of that hustle-bustle phase," she said. "When everything closed, everybody started to realize what the whole essence of living is. What made me want to do it was coming back to the community and ... using my skills to give back."

As for Fresinski, he admits he and his wife get burned out with long days of coordinating food deliveries and pickups, but all it takes is a letter or text message from someone whose day was changed by a meal delivery for them to remember why they're doing it.


Matt Fresinski, chef and co-founder, 24Meals; Louiie Victa, chef and co-host, 2 Sharp Chefs and a Microphone podcast


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