Overland continues with massive community meat donations
Tahoe Daily Tribune
In early March, Overland Meat and Seafood Company owners Brian and Kim Cohen took a vacation to go diving on the Roatan island in Honduras when they found themselves stranded amidst the massive global coronavirus shutdown.
Back in Lake Tahoe, people were panic buying meat and supplies in what’s typically the tourist destination’s shoulder season and it took the Cohens some extended effort to get back on home turf to be able to weather the pandemic with their Overland crew.
“We got to Roatan on March 11 for a dive vacation and then on the 15th Honduras went into a state of emergency and shut down everything, including travel, for at least two weeks. We were supposed to leave on March 21 but realized on the 20th that if we waited too much longer then we would be unable to get out.
“Meanwhile, Overland (in South Lake Tahoe) was going ballistic, it was just nuts with people stocking up on food and toilet paper. We couldn’t believe the amount of food we were going through…our numbers were up on everything during what’s normally our slowest time of the year.
“But we’re a food factory, and I refuse to let people go hungry. So, we got back on March 25 and (Kim and) I went into self-quarantine for two weeks but kept in contact with our staff working at the store. We also started closing on Wednesdays to give our crew a break,” Brian says.
When the Cohens got back into South Lake Tahoe and drove around on March 26, the town looked way different than how they had left it. With everything shut down, Brian knew that many local residents were likely food insecure and felt he needed to do something to help fix it.
As a meat grinder, Brian moved quickly to grind up massive amounts of beef, package it, and store it in their freezer, but started running out of room.
“On April 10 I started a social media campaign about giving away all this ground beef and on April 13 we went through 1,000 pounds of burger in an hour and 40 minutes. It was amazing,” he says. In talking to Bread & Broth (a local nonprofit aimed to help ease hunger in South Lake Tahoe) and seeing the response, Brian realized that people were in dire need of protein and that he needed to host another beef giveaway.
“One lady called me after the April 13 giveaway and said how thankful she was that we did that and brought me a check for $500. Then more customers and locals started giving donations to keep this going,” he adds. Therefore, Brian quickly built a “pay it forward” fund for future beef promotions.
On April 27, Overland hosted its second food giveaway where Grass Roots market handed out $10 gift cards, Heart Rock gave away spice packets to help season the two pounds of beef people were given, and Crystal Dairy helped store the surplus of ground beef. The morning of, the local Safeway called wanting to donate two pallets of produce towards the cause.
“I filled my truck up to the ceiling of potatoes, yams, onions, berries, everything that wasn’t selling but was still good,” Brian says. Overland ended up giving away 1,200 pounds of meat (serving about 600 people) and close to one ton of produce within 90 minutes of the April 27 event. The food giveaway cost Overland around $4,000; eleven hundred of that came from the “pay it forward” fund.
“I’ve never seen so many grateful faces and people so thankful that we’re doing this. It is really overwhelming,” Brian says. The second event also created a snowball of more donations to keep it going, but the next food giveaway all depends on the supply chain of the larger meat processing plants right now.
“Looking ahead in the beef world, it’s gotten bad out there. Meat processing plants are shutting down due to coronavirus. There’s a lot of demand but lack of supply so meat costs are going up,” Brian says.
He adds that being a smaller local meat store has allowed them to quickly put together and administer these past food giveaways, but due to the volatile costs and change in the supply chain adding money to the “pay it forward” fund is needed now more than ever to continue the program.
“We don’t deal with Tyson, Foster Farms, or Harris Ranch, we use smaller meat companies like Smart Chicken and Country Natural. That first two weeks when people were panic shopping, that caused a big demand and no supply which put pressure on the smaller companies,” Brian says.
The effects of the larger meat processing plant shutdown trickled down to the smaller farms and Brian says he started to notice it as he’s had trouble stocking tri-tip this week.
“The timing was amazing on this,” he says about being able to host meat giveaways when Overland did.
Currently, the Cohens are happy to be home and able to do what they can to help the community.
“We’re making it because we have such incredible community support right now. We’re a small business, it’s been here for 33 years. We’re grateful that we’re considered an essential business, can stay open, and have support from the community,” he says.
Brian admits that this is the best shoulder season Overland has ever had because he believes that more people are cooking at home but worries that some of the smaller restaurants may not make it through the pandemic. Overland has five wholesale accounts with local restaurants that are now closed, and that’s a huge chunk of their business that they’re missing out on right now.
“Business models are going out the window, they’re constantly changing,” says Brian. However, the ability to give back and the solid support system in Tahoe is helping him stay positive.
“I cannot stress enough the love, kudos, and spirit I’ve seen in the South Lake Tahoe community. Before this, the Angora Fire was the most disastrous event I experienced in my time being here and I haven’t seen that same kind of community support as I do now.
“There’s no other place like this, I haven’t been anywhere else where I’ve seen people taking care of their neighbors to this extent. We really are all in this together and proving that we’re Tahoe Strong,” Brian adds.
Correction: This article has been corrected. Heart Rock gave away spice to season the ground beef.
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