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Sonoma Family Meal feeds Kincade fire evacuees from Petaluma kitchen

When the 2017 firestorms ripped across the county and displaced thousands of residents, a group of culinary-connected volunteers found a need they could fill. Free meals, healthy and ready to eat, were in demand. So they started making calls, collecting resources and soon, Sonoma Family Meal was born.

While the original vision was to help people during and immediately after the fires, the nonprofit’s mission continued to grow. In the months and years that followed, Sonoma Family Meal kept serving up to 1,200 meals a week, focused on 75 families who remained displaced after the 2017 fires.

“We’re feeding a lot of people who are falling through the cracks,” said Heather Irwin, founder of Sonoma Family Meals. Irwin is the dining editor for Sonoma Media Investments, which owns the Argus-Courier.

Up until last week, the nonprofit had served more than 121,000 meals, supported by 32 chefs and farmers who provide their culinary skills and products to ensure people in crisis have not just healthy, but tasty meals.

When the Kincade fire sparked last week, displacing more than 185,000 residents, the nonprofit once again kicked into high gear. From its kitchen on North McDowell Boulevard, dozens of volunteers are cooking up to 15 hours a day to keep evacuees well fed. Working with partners such as Petalumans Amber Balshaw of Preferred Sonoma Caterers, Evan Wiig of Petaluma Bounty and Miriam Donaldson of Wishbone, the nonprofit is coordinating three meals a day for evacuation centers all over the county, including Lucchesi Park in Petaluma, the Santa Rosa Fairgrounds and Cloverdale.

“We’re serving thousands of meals a day,” said Heather Ames, executive chef of the nonprofit. “The need changes by the hour.”

When Skills For Life, a nonprofit that works with developmentally disabled individuals, needed meals for its displaced clients, Sonoma Family Meal answered the call. The same can be said of an evacuated hospice facility in Santa Rosa.

Farms and stores have donated tons of pounds of ingredients for the meals. That includes Food Networks’ “Guy’s Grocery Games” with Guy Fieri, which is filmed in Santa Rosa and contributes the produce left over from the show. But many ingredients still need to be purchased, so the nonprofit is seeking cash donations to cover to continued need.

Those interested in volunteering can sign up through the nonprofit’s website, sonomafamilymeals.org. Donations can also be made online.

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