Coronavirus Florida: Free meal effort for Palm Beach County gains money and momentum

Staff Writer
Walton Sun
Walton Sun

WEST PALM BEACH -- With contributions flowing from cities and private donors -- from $3 to thousands -- restaurateur Rodney Mayo thinks he has found a scale-able model for feeding the pandemic’s economic victims throughout Palm Beach County.

The West Palm Beach city commission Monday more than doubled its contribution to his nonprofit, which provides free meals for laid-off workers and others sidelined by the coronavirus pandemic.

The city’s Downtown Development Authority also kicked in $20,000, allowing a second restaurant kitchen to reopen for free meal distribution. Delray Beach’s city commission also was poised to contribute, allowing a third location to open.

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By shifting money from the West Palm Beach mayor’s general operating funds to Housing and Community Development, the administration came up with an additional $18,000 for Hospitality Helping Hands on Monday, bringing the city’s total to $30,000.

Mayo, who has 17 restaurants and bars in Palm Beach County, set up the nonprofit in Howley’s restaurant last Saturday, shortly after state- and city-ordered pandemic responses forced him to close table service and lay off 650 workers.

He immediately used Howley’s not as a restaurant but as a kitchen to produce free meals seven days a week for thousands of unemployed hospitality workers, seniors and others in need, from Belle Glade to Pahokee, Jupiter, Lantana and West Palm Beach.

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Seeing the community’s overwhelming response to that effort, the West Palm commission last week donated an initial $12,000 and scheduled the special meeting Monday to authorize the rest.

Mayor Keith James said other announcements will be coming, about efforts to get private sector donors to pitch in.

Mayo also has been raising private donations and pledged that his Subculture Group will match the first $100,000, a goal that is close at hand, he said.

“Laid-off workers need assistance, not just one day a week but every day,” he said Sunday in a Facebook post.

He announced that Clematis Street’s Hullabaloo Italian gastropub, part of his group of restaurants, reopened Monday, to serve a hot meal every day to any laid-off worker, thanks to the Downtown Development Authority contribution.

Having that location open will provide 1,500 meals a day for a month, taking pressure off Howley’s, Mayo said. “Howley’s has been getting a little crushed.”

As of Sunday, Howley’s had served over 16,000 free meals, Mayo estimated. Half of those were delivered, with the help of local charities, to low-income elderly, home-bound disabled and children missing the daily meal for which they relied upon now-closed school cafeterias.

"We are ramping up and planning to be able to supply more free meals to more people in need,“ he said. ”Please keep the donations coming.“

When the combination of the $100,000 in donations and the match is achieved, along with the hoped-for Delray commission money, Hospitality Helping Hands will be able to reopen the Dada restaurant’s kitchen in Delray Beach, Mayo said.

“With three locations open, we will be able to provide up to 6,000 free meals per day,” he said.

Each opening allows a half-dozen or more kitchen hands to be rehired, from dishwashers to chefs.

The nonprofit also is organizing a grocery pick-up location, where laid off workers can get food to take home and restock their refrigerators.

“The fund-raising’s been great,” Mayo said Monday afternoon. “This is a model that could really work, because every municipality’s going to have this issue. If you get one or two restaurants open, under this model you take care of all those needs.”

To contribute, go online to, or drop off cash or checks at Howley’s, 4700 S. Dixie Highway.

Follow Tony Doris on Twitter @TonyDorisPBP

This story originally published to, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the USA TODAY Network - Florida.