When social distancing measures prohibited large gatherings and forced restaurants to close their doors, Jordan Robarge had other ideas for putting his food truck, Revival Chili, and sister restaurant, Nancy’s Revival, to good use. He created a crowdfunding campaign called Revival Relief (which is still accepting donations) that is keeping his employees financially secure and providing complimentary, hot meals to medical personnel, other essential workers, and residents of Pittsburgh, Pa during the COVID-19 public health crisis.
With a mission to create job opportunities for disadvantaged individuals, Jordan worried about the financial security of his employees when COVID-19-related restrictions began.
“How do I make sure that my employees, who are generally more economically vulnerable, are going to make it through?” Jordan asked.
Both Revival Chili and Nancy’s Revival employ people with barriers to employment. While on the job, the businesses focus on helping their employees gain personal and professional skills as well as helping them live an economically secure life. Jordan himself struggled to gain employment after graduating college due to an underage drinking charge, despite his qualifications and successful interviews with employers. That experience informed his decision to begin a business that doesn’t require a pre-employment background check. His employees begin with a starting wage of $12 per hour and are assessed objectively on their progress to obtain scheduled raises. As soon as it was clear that COVID-19 could potentially threaten his employees’ security, Jordan had a conversation with each of his seven employees about how to move forward and what would help them most.
Though his employees were his first concern, he was also aware that frontline healthcare workers are facing physical and emotional difficulties. And with cancelled events and an empty calendar, the Revival Chili food truck was available to bring nourishing, delicious food to them to brighten their days.
“Pittsburgh hasn’t been hit as hard as some other cities, but I understand the stress our healthcare workers are under. So, it’s amazing and a lot of fun to be able to put smiles on people’s faces with our food,” says Jordan.
Gifted with experience from two previous crowdfunding campaigns (one that launched Revival Chili and another that helped replace the food truck after it caught fire), Jordan established Revival Relief to cover payroll, food costs, and admin expenses so that his employees could keep getting consistent paychecks and help make a difference in the lives of essential workers. After the first couple weeks of the stay at home order in Pennsylvania, his employees jumped back into work to cook their famous chili varieties (including vegan, spicy chicken, classic beef, and spicy pork and beef), prep containers for pre-packaged meal deliveries, and keep their whole operation running smoothly.
“The first three to four weeks were really hard as we were trying to figure everything out. We launched the Revival Relief initiative so we could continue providing economic security for our employees and help those most impacted by COVID-19. The initiative has had a really good effect on our employees and is bringing us together,” Jordan says.
By May 27th, Revival Relief served more than 1400 meals to essential medical workers at UPMC medical facilities and local residents. Every week, that number continues to climb as Revival Relief travels to communities including East Liberty, McKeesport, Homewood, Oakland, Swissvale, Sewickley, Regent Square, Homewood, and the North Shore. They’ve also partnered with 412 Food Rescue to deliver 300 meals to those in lower income housing neighborhoods and MedPlus Staffing to identify the medical facilities in most need. So far, their time in these communities has been impactful and uplifting, and sometimes results in serving more local residents and workers than they initially planned for. After pulling up to the East Liberty Family Healthcare Clinic on April 30th, a member of a nearby church who was operating their food bank wondered if Revival Chili could serve folks who were stopping by their food drive.
“We said, Absolutely, of course. Let’s keep going. We always bring way too much food, so we’re more than happy to continue serving. And just by being present and seeing what is happening in communities, we’re able to provide more delicious, hot meals to people who probably have a large food insecurity,” Jordan says.
In order to keep their employees financially stable and continue providing meals for essential workers, Revival Relief is still collecting donations. Individuals and companies can also participate in a variety of sponsorship levels for the initiative. For updates on Revival Chili’s weekly schedule and service areas, locals can visit their Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
All photos courtesy of Revival Chili.