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Westchester chefs brew up a million-gallon idea: Soup for the needy and financially strapped

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The mandated closing of restaurants due to the COVID-19 outbreak means there’s a lot of excess kitchen capacity. In Westchester County, a group of chefs, restarauteurs and a brewer has embarked on a program to use that excess capacity to help people in need.

They call the program the Million Gallon Challenge and the goal is to cook that amount of soup and distribute it to the hungry. The soup will be packaged in quart containers and a large portion of it will be frozen for future distribution.

But where do you find a pot to cook that much? Enter Captain Lawrence Brewing Company in Elmsford whose large kettle will be transformed from brewing beer to brewing-up soup.

soup brew million gallon
Louis Lanza speaks at the announcement of the Million Gallon Challenge. Captain Lawrence Brewing Company Founder Scott Vaccaro stands behind him. Photo by Peter Katz

The soup will be distributed through organizations such as Feeding Westchester, which has    been gearing up for increased need for their services as the pandemic results in more and more people finding themselves out of work and unable to make ends meet.

Eric Korn of Monteverde at Oldstone, Scott Vaccaro of the Captain Lawrence Brewing Company, Morgan Anthony of the Village Social Restaurant Group in Mount Kisco, Navjot Arora of Chutney Masala in Irvington, Scott Frantagelo of L’inizio in Ardsley and Louis Lanza of the Hudson Hospitality Group in Peekskill are several of those actively involved.

John Van Dekker of the marketing firm Enormous Creative in Peekskill organized a March 19 introduction of the program at the brewery.

Standing in front of the entrance to the now-closed beer hall, Korn said, “When someone’s not well, you cook soup. When someone needs help, you cook soup, you give it to them, you warm them and that’s what we’re doing right now. Yesterday, two days ago, in the last few days, hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs; people in the hospitality industry who count on a paycheck week-to-week to feed their families. Without notice they lost their jobs immediately and they’re in need of help and we’re setting out to help them.”

Westchester County Executive George Latimer was on hand to express his support for the effort.

“What we face now economically, I can’t even begin to grasp, is going to affect all elements of society. But it’s going to affect different industries in a different timeframe and certainly the restaurant and the hospitality industry is affected right now,” Latimer said. “If I said this is probably similar to what the Great Depression looked like in its first few days maybe I’m exaggerating, but maybe I’m not. All I know is that these men have put together a plan to help feed people and the county government is going to stand behind it.”

Latimer said he had some good news to share: The 50-year-old attorney from New Rochelle, who was the apparent source of numerous infections in that community, is now out of the intensive care unit at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York and has been sitting up in bed and talking.

James P. McHale Jr., of JP McHale Pest Management, said that he become involved in the program because his company has been serving the hospitality industry for decades and will be helping keep the shuttered restaurants sanitary so they can continue cooking. He said that the company also is contributing its services to community charities that may be in need of them at this time.

Lanza, whose six restaurants in Peekskill have been forced to close resulting in the layoffs of about 100 workers, said that his family’s foundation would be donating $100,000 to the cause.

“Every time you go to a restaurant, every time you go to a nice hotel, you don’t realize how hard work it is in this hospitality business. So, these people, they want to work. They’re the last people that want to go on unemployment. Let’s see what we can do to help these people,” Lanza said.

For more information or make a donation, visit MillionGallons.com.

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