Serving a Repurpose
Writer Joseph J. Airdo
Photography Courtesy of Musically Fed
Over the past four years, Phoenix-based nonprofit organization Musically Fed has provided more than 20,000 meals to the homeless, hungry and food insecure — meals that had previously been enjoyed by U2, Kenny Chesney, The Zac Brown Band and Fleetwood Mac.
Each of those music acts — and many more — partner with Musically Fed to ensure that unused backstage meals are put to good use rather than going to waste. The nonprofit organization’s mission is to mobilize the entertainment industry in the nation’s fight against hunger. After all, in the United States alone, almost 40% of the food supply is wasted each year.
Musically Fed works with artists, promoters, management and venues to donate unused backstage meals to community organizations not only here in Arizona but also those across the country. The nonprofit organization identifies opportunities, procures resources and coordinates all aspects of food handling, transportation and distribution, making it easy for promoters and performers to benefit those who might otherwise be malnourished or go hungry.
This year’s COVID-19 pandemic has made Musically Fed’s mission more significant than ever, as people not only in our community but also across the country — and beyond — have struggled with side effects such as loss of income and inability to find food.
However, every cloud has a silver lining. And although this particular cloud may seem darker and more ominous than any that we have ever experienced before, Musically Fed has been using its resources and program to find the silver lining in this situation, relocating and repurposing food from the myriad of canceled events that would otherwise go to waste and ensuring that those hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic continue to have a source of sustenance.
Food for Thought
Scottsdale resident Maria Brunner founded Musically Fed in 2016 in honor of her husband who was a proud Vietnam veteran. When he passed away, she suddenly realized that she — like many people in our country — did not know a whole lot about the veteran community.
“I just thought that they were taken care of and that they did not have a worry in the world,” Brunner says. “But that was not true. In reaching out to other Vietnam vets in Phoenix, I learned that many of them were in need. Those who live on the street do not eat on a regular basis, and what they do eat is not necessarily healthy. Many local organizations were — and still are — struggling to help.”
Brunner, who has worked in the entertainment industry for the past 30 years, began thinking about ways that she could make a difference in the lives of the many men and women who have fought for our country. She was especially interested in developing a viable program that would repurpose unused backstage catering from concerts and festivals.
“You hope that you order well enough so that there is very little food to toss at the end of the night,” Brunner explains. “But the reality is that you have to be fluid based on crew needs, local crew needs and artist needs. And most good caterers will say that they never want to run out. So there is often food that has been untouched, is very safe and could be repurposed if one thought long enough about how to do it.”
Brunner reached out to Talking Stick Arena’s general manager Ralph Marchetta, Arizona Catering’s owner Mitch Katz and Jake Berry — a production manager who happened to have U2 rolling into town for rehearsals and a show — and shared with them her idea.
With their help, Musically Fed was able to repurpose the unused backstage catering from U2’s rehearsals and concert and provide more than 300 meals to outreach programs in the community.
Two weeks later, Brunner repeated the program for Kenny Chesney.
“Kenny is a big veteran supporter,” she says. “We ended up getting them to let us try a dry run through his first night of rehearsal.”
Chesney and his team liked the program and the positive feedback they received in response to it so much that they made Musically Fed their tour partner. Through their generosity, Brunner learned how to implement her mission in cities across the country.
“When entertainment is up and thriving, we are normally working with three to five artists on their national tours doing in each city exactly what we do here,” adds Brunner, noting that The Zac Brown Band and Fleetwood Mac also invited Musically Fed along on their national tours to feed the homeless, hungry and food insecure throughout America.
Last year alone, with the help of Terry Burke — president of Southwest music for Live Nation — and other partners, Brunner was able to serve more than 6,000 meals to Arizona charities. Notable recipients include Mana House, Ryan House, Phoenix Rescue Mission, Catholic Charities, Resurrection Street Ministry and Hospice of the Valley.
A Glimmer of Light in the Dark
Musically Fed’s mission became even more significant this year when health precautions and social distancing efforts as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic made members of the community who are already at risk even more vulnerable.
The nonprofit organization’s publicist Andrea Kramer says that having to stay home, not having an income and not having a source of food has taken a real toll on families who were already hurting before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“While most of us are fortunate enough to see the craziness at Costco and stock up our pantries, most of these families do not have that luxury,” Kramer says.
However, the many concert, festival and sporting event cancelations — although devastating both in the moment and in long-term impact — suddenly resulted in an abundance of unused food. Musically Fed was in a unique position to salvage that food and find a glimmer of light during a very dark time in our history.
Earlier this year, the nonprofit organization forged a partnership with Staples Center’s lead chef Manny Slomovits of Levy Restaurants, repurposing food from Grammy Award celebrations into 1,600 meals for those in need.
In the wake of event cancelations at Staples Center as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Slomovits and Musically Fed combined their efforts again to assist vulnerable community members who may otherwise have been overlooked.
“We discovered that there was an awful lot of food that was going to go to waste because of canceled events,” Kramer says. “We got in contact with Los Angeles Mission and The Midnight Mission and split 7,000 pounds of food between the two organizations, who see between 500 and 1,000 people each day.”
Brunner adds that, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of people who have sought the services of those organizations — and others — dramatically increased. The Staples Center’s donation alone was repurposed as 20,000 meals.
Several other entertainment venues and organizations, including the Phoenix Suns, have made similar contributions to Musically Fed over the past several months. These generous contributions enabled the nonprofit to make this incredibly challenging time of ravaged supermarket shelves and school closures just a little bit easier on people — including families with children who rely on schools for daily sustenance.
More recently, the organization pivoted its mission to feed local concert and live event workers — a segment of the population whose livelihood has been hit especially hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Since March, Musically Fed has facilitated the collection and distribution of more than 25,000 meals and hundreds of groceries for these individuals who were the first to lose their jobs and will quite likely be the last to return to them.
A Product of Our Community
Brunner is grateful for and proud of the positive impact that Musically Fed has had on not only our local community but also the country, but she knows that there is much more that can be done.
“I am wondering how many of these restaurants that stayed open for takeout toss food at the end of every night,” Brunner says. “If you have worked 18 hours in your shop, I do not know that you necessarily want to load [unused food] into your car and deliver it somewhere.”
She encourages community members to not only support their local restaurants but take their commitment even further by asking them about unused food, educating them about repurposing efforts and even offer to deliver it to those in need.
“[Musically Fed’s] growth has been nothing short of miraculous, and I am so proud of our colleagues in the music business and our teams of volunteers for making a difference,” Brunner says. “We hope it now inspires the rest of the entertainment industry — including the fans — to get involved.”
She adds that when she founded the nonprofit organization more than four years ago, she intended for it to be a way for the entertainment community to make a difference in the lives of others.
“My hope is through this very rough, trying, challenging and life-shaking time, humanity overall will find that in itself, learn that we are all a product of our community and help one another,” Brunner says.