Chubby Chickpea: Be Safe Plus

The Chubby Chickpea Food Truck founder Avi Shemtov has a simple philosophy: “get it done.” In the crazy logistical world of mobile food, one needs to be able to do just that – identify needs and address them decisively, to succeed. As Shemtov and Family Service of Rhode Island have partnered to launch Be Safe Plus, they’ve found that, despite the obvious differences between their two organizations, they share this common ethos.

COVID-19 brought about a new set of community needs greater and faster than anyone could have predicted. Lost income, the danger of leaving home, and overburdened supply chains resulted in increased food security and reduced access to basic necessities. For at-risk populations such as seniors, these problems were only heightened, and it became far too risky to even go to a supermarket. All the while, many support systems for these populations were shutting down as they too were hit by the effects of the virus.. There was a clear area of need. Family Services immediately stopped on a dime to launch Be Safe Plus, which delivers boxes of fresh food and cleaning supplies to the doorsteps of seniors free of charge.

This plunge into the completely foreign world of food service was enabled by the expertise and work of Shemtov. As he describes it, running a food truck is like doing the world’s largest catering job, day in and day out. Used to operating in a world where routine is virtually non-existent, diving into the logistics of a brand new and rapidly growing operation was natural for the Chubby Chickpea team. Furthermore, local food incubator Hope & Main provided not only a state of the art commissary space, but also yet another partner committed to flexibility in the face of challenge. Jump started by a massive 30 box donation from Shemtov, the program was quickly putting deliveries on doorsteps.

Even so, the challenges of the new program remained immense. On the front end, the sourcing of food and packing of boxes meant countless hours of tough work. At doorsteps, delivery teams would often find themselves met with a language barrier, or an incorrectly entered address. Every challenge was overcome by a coalescing of people with complementary skills, but more importantly, a desire to make a difference in a time of crisis. Almost none of Be Safe Plus’ team members receive the recognition they deserve. Yet, for many, receiving a simple phone call of appreciation from a recipient is far more gratifying than anything else.

And, while the teams do deliver much needed food and supplies, they provide perhaps a more essential commodity. In a time where the world – and particularly isolated seniors – are starving for social interaction, the Be Safe Team ensures that their deliveries are just that, at a safe distance of course. Shemtov has found that on deliveries, spending time on the little things that make seniors feel loved and remembered and cared about makes an outsized impact.

On one recent delivery, Be Safe Plus team members received a slightly unusual call. One participant in the program appreciated the food and such, but really just needed whipped cream. To be fair, whipped cream was definitely outside the bounds of the program, and it meant scrambling to find some before the delivery went out. It would have been easy to apologize, continue on with the day’s work, and deliver the ordinary box. But, the chance to give not only whipped cream, but also compassion and care – all to make a truly tangible impact – was obvious. The team’s response?

“Get it done.”