December 17, 2020

Making meals that heal

Latest initiative of Friends in Weed keeps Front Range restaurants working, while also fighting local food insecurity

By Will Brendza - December 17, 2020

Since March of this year, some of Boulder and Denver’s most beloved food establishments have permanently shuttered — The Med, Brasserie Ten Ten, Meadowlark Kitchen, Racines — diminishing local flavors and decimating hospitality jobs. 

As we approach the December holidays under “level red” COVID restrictions, those restaurants still clinging to survival and Colorado’s out-of-work employees are both going to need more help than ever. 

That’s why a group of cannabis companies collectively called Friends in Weed are stepping up to help. Their newest initiative, called Meals That Heal, is a clever variation on a food drive that will keep people fed and help restaurants stay in business — and you can get involved, whether you’re “into weed” or not. 

“Instead of doing a holiday meal donation, which was our original plan, we wanted to figure out another way to try and help restaurants maintain consistent work each week, which would then allow them to keep people employed,” says Jonathan Spadafora, the head of marketing and sales at Veritas Fine Cannabis, one of the founding companies of Friends in Weed.  

The biggest hurdle, though, was the nature of the business. Because of cannabis’ status as a Schedule 1 drug, making direct donations as a cannabis company is particularly tricky. It can put the recipient in an uncertain position with the federal government — especially if they’re receiving any government loans, grants or assistance. 

“Most people would be shocked to hear how hard it is to give money away [as a cannabis company],” Spadafora says.

Friends in Weed had to come up with a workaround. In March, the organization bought gift cards from local restaurants and give them to bud tenders who’d been let go, furloughed or were experiencing reduced hours. Collectively, Friends in Weed bought more than $77,000 in gift cards through that effort.

Now they’ve refined their approach. Meals That Heal, which just kicked off in early December, aims to bring together even more cannabis businesses, and even more restaurant partners to broaden its scope of impact. 

Here’s how it works: Participating sponsors purchase healthy, packaged, finish-at-home meals for between $8-$10 a piece, through the Friends in Weed website. Those meals, prepared by local restaurants, are then distributed to hospitality industry workers and communities. 

“Some component of those meals will be donated back to the restaurant groups to give to their staff or anyone who has had a reduction in hours or income,” Spadafora explains. “The remaining balance of the meals will be donated to local organizations designated by the companies who are providing the funding.”

Basically, it keeps the kitchen working, it feeds the restaurant industry, and then sponsors get to choose where most of the meals they purchase go. On top of all that, it offers a way for cannabis companies to directly donate to a cause that will help their community. 

As of this writing, the Friends in Weed website says it’s already provided 630 meals.

“The intention is to create something where more companies can come in and get involved and hopefully create some prolonged work for the restaurant industry and food security for people who are struggling with that right now,” Spadafora says. 

Currently, cannabis companies working with the Meals That Heal program include Veritas, Cookies, Olio, Slang Worldwide, Higher Grade and Grasslands. Restaurant partners include The F Club, The Post, Lola, Jax Fish House, the West End Tavern, Centro and a number of others. Spadafora says he’s still looking for more community engagement, more businesses to get on board.

Individuals can get involved too, Spadafora adds — even if you aren’t a cannabis company, or in the cannabis industry at all. Simply go to the Friends in Weed website and you’ll soon have the option to purchase Friends in Weed T-shirts or masks, the proceeds for which will all go toward purchasing meals. 

“We think that our local restaurants are a huge part of what makes this community an amazing place to live,” Spadafora says. “We have the ability to help, and right now there’s plenty of people who could use it. This seems like the most effective way to help as many people as possible.” 

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