One of D.C.’s highest grossing catering companies, Occasions Caterers, isn’t wowing wedding guests or feeding attendees of swank soirees while the city is under a stay-at-home order. As soon as COVID-19 shut down D.C., they nimbly adjusted their operations, like most food businesses have done, to continue operating in some capacity.

They began by selling delivery meal kits for households with up to four people, including Easter and Passover menus. Now they’ve launched the Occasions Caterers Giving Kitchen in partnership with local nonprofit DC Greens. They’re making free meals for Washingtonians in need, with a special focus on residents who live in Wards 7 and 8. 

“The joy we get in catering is all about satisfying the need for people to have a special moment that they’ll remember,” says co-founder Mark Michael. But now his company has gone back to basics. “The joy we get right now is just being able to help folks that are in need. For me, there’s just as much satisfaction in being able to help out.” 

DC Greens connected Michael with the East River Family Strengthening Collaborative (ERFSC) in Ward 7 and the Far Southeast Family Strengthening Collaborative (FSFSC) in Ward 8. 

Occasions Caterers is preparing, donating, and delivering 200 meals a day to ERFSC. Staff there then distribute them to nearby seniors. “The seniors really love it,” says Irwin Royster, ERFSC’s director of partnerships and community engagement. “It’s been received really well. If we’re a half-hour late, seniors call and ask where their meals are.”

The boxes typically include a bottle of water, a piece of fruit, a sandwich, and peanuts or chips. “It’s a really satiable meal for a senior,” Royster says. 

Michael says up to 25 people come in to help prepare the meals every day. “We’re practicing the best quality hygiene that we can,” he says. “We take temperatures in the morning when people come in. Everyone wears masks and gloves. We’ve rearranged the kitchen so no one is working near anybody else.”

At the Far Southeast Family Strengthening Collaborative, Occasions Caterers is focused on providing Sunday meals. “What I was hearing from Lauren [Schweder Biel, DC Greens’ executive director] is Sundays are a big problem over there,” Michael says. “People can’t go to their churches.”

Dionne Bussey Reeder, the executive director of FSFSC, says her organization has also been working with other entities like World Central Kitchen to feed Ward 8 neighbors. “In two days, Mark, Lauren, and I pulled our brains together and developed a strategy,” Reeder says. This Sunday will be the first time they distribute meals out of the Temple of Praise at 700 Southern Ave. SE beginning at 10 a.m. 

Occasions is providing 500 meals, but there should be a total of 1,000 meals available, thanks to another community partner. Both Reeder and Royster say there’s a need for more meals, which is why Occasions Caterers is looking for donations through the Giving Kitchen page on its website. 

“This is a time that people are seeing how important it is for us to unite,” Reeder says. “It’s not about economics or race or culture or where you live. This is hitting us all globally. People all across the city, we have to show our humanity.”

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