Tackling food insecurity in the wake of the Covid19 pandemic
Brooklyn Relief Kitchen at Old First (BRK) is a volunteer-led organization founded by restaurant industry professionals to tackle food insecurity in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. We prepare fresh cooked meals and relief boxes for distribution by our local frontline community partners.
BRK is an evolving project meeting the varying needs of our New York City community, from our fresh meal program, to individual deliveries when possible, to food pantry drives and more. Old First Reformed Church in Park Slope Brooklyn is our fiscal sponsor and provides a fully equipped kitchen space.
In our first two weeks of operation, we supplied over 2000 meals. Currently we prepare 1,500 fresh cooked meals and hundreds of produce and pantry relief boxes per week in support of our neighboring partners; existing food pantries, soup kitchens and local community organizations. Your donation, no matter the amount, will help us to continue this work for the months to come.
In 2012 following the devastating impacts of Hurricane Sandy, this same group of food industry professionals and volunteers banded together to start the Hurricane Sandy Relief Kitchen.
Spearheaded by local restaurateurs Andy and Piper Wandzilak, they managed to gather donations and funds and community action, to serve over 200,000 meals and supplies to those most gravely affected by the storm.
Today, as New York starts to open back up, so many are still suffering from the effects of lost wages, unemployment, illness and no safety net or end in sight. The gang decided it was time to come back together, and do what they do best – Keep Brooklyn Strong by Keeping Brooklyn Fed.
Andrew Wandzilak – Executive Director
Andrew Wandzilak’s life has always been linked with the pleasures of food. He remembers cooking alongside his mother as a child – and selling homemade blackberry pies with a friend at age 11. (They picked the blackberries themselves.) As a teenager, he staffed the kitchen at summer camp and began working in restaurants at 17. In 1995, he was hired at Two Boots (Park Slope) by his wife-to-be Piper, their destiny unbeknownst to either party, eventually becoming executive chef and co-owner.
A visit to a friend in Rockaway, ravaged by Hurricane Sandy, was the original inspiration for the Brooklyn Relief Kitchen. Andy turned out vats of homemade soup and thousands of sandwiches, improvising recipes according to what was donated each day. His urgent desire to serve was kindled afresh in the wake of the Coronavirus, bringing the BRK “home team” back to the kitchen at Old First in June 2020. Andy’s dedication to the BRK is bedrock-strong: “I believe that people should look out for one another,” he says. “By providing food relief, we not only nourish the hungry, but we let people know that the community cares about them [and] members of the community have a mechanism, in BRK, to help their neighbors in association with like-minded people.” As owner/chef at Big Chief and at Ample Hills, Andy’s creations sustained the local community with delicious fare; as the fearless leader of the BRK, he’s filling hearts and bellies alike, delivering respect along with thousands of portions of sausage-lentil soup and turkey chili.
Piper Wandzilak – Director and Volunteer Coordinator
Piper Wandzilak brings decades of experience in haute and homespun cuisine to her work with the Brooklyn Relief Kitchen, which was created after Hurricane Sandy, eventually donating over 200,000 meals of homemade soup and sandwiches to Brooklyn locals in need. The BRK opened again on June 6, 2020, in the wake of NYC’s Coronavirus lockdown. “It’s a hell of a thing,” she says. “People came out of the woodwork, out of the goodness of their hearts – and sometimes it’s not that much fun, chopping onions! They find community here, a kind of family – a warm safe home, in these unusual times.” Born in Paris and raised on the Upper East Side, Piper’s made her home in Brooklyn, where she and her husband Andy raised their now-adult kids and continue to serve the community, with love and plenty of garlic.
Katie O’Donnell – Executive Chef
Chef Katie O’Donnell grew up in NJ farm country, but she honed her trade on the high seas, as the sole cook on a 100’ fishing boat, supplementing a weekly budget of $125 for 10 hungry crew with the sea’s occasional contribution of fish and seafood – expertise that worked to her advantage as Chef de Cuisine at Dave Pasternack’s three-star seafood palace, Esca, among other high-profile postings.
An early champion of local, sustainable, seasonal cuisine, Katie first worked with the BRK after Hurricane Sandy; when the kitchen opened again, early in New York City’s COVID-19 lockdown, she was back behind the stove, creating and preparing 1800 meals a week. “Being back is very nostalgic for me; I am not particularly religious, but the church sanctuary is beautiful, and the kitchen feels like home. I know my Dad would have been very proud of me running a relief kitchen, and helping people in need.” Even a rogue donation of a dozen cases of movie-theatre queso didn’t rattle Katie; bit by bit, it went into her ever-popular mac and cheese. As a proud member of Coney Island’s Polar Bear Club, Katie favors wintry dips in the Atlantic and summer vacations spear-fishing and diving for spiny lobster. She makes her home in Brighton Beach.