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Bull Horn is an avenue to give wings to the stories that matter most. This series, from Red Bull in partnership with the Chicago Reader, invites guest writers, artists, activists, and community members to share their ideas and amplify timely, crucial topics they feel are important now.

I’m getting tired of giving corona so much credit this past year. I get that this virus has been the cause of much sadness, death, turmoil, disagreement, and civil unrest. We’ve had many social media scientists and experts weighing in on solutions and theories as they sit in their underwear and fluffy slippers getting ready for a zoom meeting like a full body mullet—business up top, party down below.

Our government at the time had no backup plan, no solutions, no answers, and this is how we went into this plague: with relief in the form of $1800 dollars in aid to pay for a year’s worth of rent, food, goods, utilities, toiletries, gas—you get it. In times of uncertainty, the last place you would look for life aid is your local artist or creative. Rightfully so, too. I mean artists were always seen as flighty, oftentimes pretentious, attention-seeking egomaniacs.

Looking at a global disaster through the lens of a creative has been one great experiment after another. When charity and philanthropy are the backbone of your strategy in surviving the pandemic, it wasn’t too hard to devise a plan that would help us help others. We started small at the beginning and made sure our immediate family would be helped. Starting an art fundraiser, selling small pieces to raise money and donating money directly to my employees, seemed like a no-brainer to me. Why not use a talent to raise money and at the same time give something tangible back to people willing to donate to the cause?

Next was the free farmers market where we (Ed Marzweski and I) would convert the Marz Brewing lot into a local market, free of charge to vendors, and help them make money directly from consumers. We converted the tiny front Kimski patio into a free local vendor market for during service; helped raise over $30,000 in Go Fund Me campaigns; set up free markets in Englewood; curated a section of The Quarantine Times where all walks of life got a stipend to contribute an article; re-imagined a soup event 100 percent for charity; among other implemented ideas. All of this would turn into: How do we reach more people and help our immediate community in need?

This is how Community Kitchen was born. Marzweski came up with the idea of helping the elderly in Bridgeport and funding it through his nonprofit PMI. The idea was simple: hire out-of-work industry workers and give them a lot of money to actually care about making food to feed the elderly and immediate neighbors. This all went swimmingly well and as winter was fast approaching—with more closings and still no solutions or answers from our government—we had no choice but to shutter. Again. Trying to forecast survival in the winter was tough enough, but now with a deadly virus floating around?

The only for-sure thing we enjoyed doing was helping out our community and peers alike. Every restaurant that we hired to help loved the program and would have done it pro bono. We thought, is there a way to do this five days a week, and would anyone even give a shit? We weren’t the first to implement a program like this, nor are we the only restaurant that loves to help others. We were one of many who discovered and felt the need to do what we could to help. With private grants, partnerships and amazing generosity of the public, Community Canteen was born!

Through this program, we were able to get Moms on Marz, Donermen, Wherewithal, Whiner Beer Company, and Iyanze Bar and Cafe on board with setting up similar models of delivering food to those in need, and handing meals to all walks of life. No judgment or questions, just trying to restore dignity and a sense of community in such strange times. We weren’t part of some secret meeting, nor did we ask for outside help. We just literally asked ourselves what we wanted to do with the intent to help others and went for it. It has been the best long-term art experiment that I have ever been a part of and I’m looking forward to keeping it going. COVID got a lot of credit for destroying a lot of lives this year, but I can proudly say that it wasn’t enough to stop us from thinking outside the box—again.

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