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Kyle’s Kitchen has always been a mission-driven restaurant, and COVID-19 certainly hasn’t changed that.
In response to the ongoing pandemic, the restaurant has so far donated 200 family meals to special-needs families. To expand the impact of the program, owner Jay Ferro launched a GoFundMe in April to fundraise an additional $20,000 for family meal donations. But that’s not all — the Ferro family, whose son Kyle has special needs, has also committed to matching all donations up to $10,000.
“It’s not a profitable decision, but I think it’s the right decision,” said Ferro. “It helps maximize the amount of food these families can get.”
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COVID-19 has introduced new challenges for many of these families. Children with special needs need structure to thrive, Ferro explained, which can be difficult for parents to maintain while working full-time in a home setting.
Many special-needs children are also immunocompromised, which introduces another stressor to families who may already be dealing with issues like health and unemployment. With this program, the Ferro family aims to “make special-needs families’ lives a little easier during these uncertain times.”
The program is possible due in part to the restaurant’s close relationships with special-needs organizations, which were developed through years of philanthropy projects. Since Kyle’s Kitchen opened in 2014, the Ferro family has donated over $150,000 to a total of 34 special-needs organizations.
“They’re really important to the success of this,” Ferro said. “Where they help us is finding the families.” The organizations help locate families in need through existing networks and contacts, who use the restaurant’s meal donation request form to help recommend families for the service.
Community members and special-needs families are also encouraged to fill out the form to recommend families or request assistance. There are no restrictions or qualifications for the program other than living with a family member with special needs, and multiple meals are available to those most in need.
Meal vouchers will be distributed through digital gift cards that families can use to order curbside pickup or delivery. For families who may have difficulty with ordering meals due to obstacles like internet access or language barriers, the restaurant has a facilitator program in place. Facilitators are volunteers who help place orders and coordinate the delivery process.
“We’ve found them to be pretty much across the board,” said Ferro of those who have signed up to become facilitators. “They’re anyone from Kyle’s teachers and aides, to staff members and leaders of our partner organizations, to neighbors who are just trying to help out a neighbor.”
The meal program is also keeping Kyle’s Kitchen staff employed. Like most Santa Barbara restaurants, Kyle’s Kitchen was hit hard by COVID-19 restrictions — 65 employees were laid off and sales fell by over 50 percent.
Since launching the GoFundMe, however, the restaurant has been able to rehire former employees. If the $20,000 fundraising goal is met, Ferro anticipates that the additional revenue will enable the restaurant to assign more hours to staff members and keep them employed.
The response to the campaign has been extremely positive: More than $14,000 was raised in less than a month. The Ferros ultimately hope to feed up to 1,000 special-needs families in the Goleta and Santa Barbara community.