Steph and Ayesha Curry’s stunning impact on Oakland kids: 16 million meals in one year

May 9, 2021
Food
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Image Source: https://www.sfchronicle.com/

About a year ago, a fledgling charitable group working on hunger issues realized an urgent need was rising out of the pandemic.

So Stephen and Ayesha Curry put their young foundation Eat. Learn. Play. into motion to address the crisis.

One year later?

Eat. Learn. Play. has helped to serve many meals to Oakland’s children and families at risk of food insecurity.

How many?

Sixteen million. 16,000,000.

“It’s pretty crazy,” Stephen Curry said recently. “We’ve been able to mobilize quickly. We didn’t expect to have such an impact — we only launched a year and a half ago. But so many kids were hanging in the dark. It was alarming.

“We are excited about the work we’re doing, but it’s hard to celebrate because it means the need is so great. That’s the dichotomy.”

The Currys launched their foundation in the summer of 2019, hoping to address three pillars of healthy childhoods: nutrition, education and recreation. Ayesha Curry was already recognized in the food world, so the emphasis on nutrition was natural, and with 25% of Oakland children suffering from food insecurity, the need was clearly there.

Yet, no one could have predicted how, within months of the launch, that need would skyrocket.

“It’s unfathomable,” Ayesha Curry said. “It feels like we jumped from being an infant to being a 10-year-old, with no in-between. We had to learn so quickly how to scale and how to think ahead.”

Many basketball analogies can be found in what Eat. Learn. Play. does. One is the importance of timing, a critical element in sports. The other is the foundation’s role as a point guard of sorts: a distributor, organizer and leader.

“We’re kind of the glue to mobilize forces,” Stephen said.

And the effort is all about “strength in numbers.”

“We are a partner-oriented organization,” said CEO Chris Helfrich. “We have been able to bring partners together from all over the community.”

The Currys are committed to funding all infrastructure and operating costs so that every dollar raised goes directly to the community. While the Currys are the foundation’s largest donors, their name has also brought awareness and fundraising power: Helfrich said ELP has raised more than $15 million in its first full year.

“Some have come in six- and seven-figure donations,” Helfrich said. “Others have been $10, or $30, from people who read about us and support our efforts.”

During the pandemic, the meal delivery program has been three-pronged. The first effort is fundraising for the Alameda County Community Food Bank. According to Helfrich, the food bank — the first line of defense — has had to double its output due to the spike in need.

The foundation also partners with the Oakland Unified School District. Many children relied on school meals for their daily nutrition, and with schools closed during the pandemic, ELP worked to deliver those meals into the community. With the food supply chain in chaos because of restaurant closures — and food potentially spoiling in warehouses — ELP partnered with local growers to deliver fresh produce boxes to families, along with meals.

Through its partnership with World Central Kitchen, ELP has engaged local restaurants. Restaurants are paid $10 for every meal they deliver to Oakland’s hungry. Helfrich said many restaurants — 130 total — have reported that the program allowed them to rehire staff and avoid closures in the past year.

Ayesha said her most memorable moment of the past year was cooking meals at home for the program’s volunteers and delivering them, along with Stephen, to people doing the frontline work.

“They are working so hard,” Ayesha said. “It was great to see the smiles on their faces.”

Another standout moment was, on a syndicated television show, surprising Tee Tran, the owner of Oakland’s Monster Pho, with a check for $25,000 to help him during the pandemic.

The foundation’s next step is addressing the “Learn” pillar. The focus will be on literacy: according to statistics the foundation cites, only 18% of Black students and 24% of Latino students in the Oakland school district are reading at grade level, compared to 75% of their white counterparts.

“When you look at those numbers, you get uncomfortable,” Stephen said.

The Currys, like most parents in the pandemic, have been hands-on teaching their three children — Riley, 8, Ryan, 5, and Canon, 2 — and know the importance of literacy. Curry joked he was “demoted” as his children’s Zoom teacher once the NBA season started.

In late summer, when the school year starts, ELP will launch a city-wide reading challenge, partnering with OUSD and the Oakland Literacy Coalition. The Currys will incentivize the challenge, providing rewards for students and teachers.

The foundation is also creating an Eat. Learn. Play. bus that will serve as a free mobile market and bookstore, bringing restaurant meals and books directly into the communities. The vision is for a vehicle that serves many purposes, like distributing recreational equipment — maybe Curry sneakers — and community needs, such as flu shots and health information.

“We want to meet the community where they are,” Helfrich said.

The Currys are spreading their message in other ways. They were recently featured on an episode of “Sesame Street” — C is for Cooking — that was filmed before the pandemic. The children’s show amplifies the Curry message about nutrition, education and play: Ayesha cooked with Elmo and Stephen cooked with Cookie Monster. (“He’s a cool guy,” Stephen said.) The Warriors star admitted to his children that it took three takes before he made the basket in the “play” segment.

On April 28, Ayesha Curry will testify in front of Congress, at the invitation of Rep. Jim McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat and chair of the House Rules Committee. The topic will be childhood hunger and the need to keep school meal programs going during summer and other periods of school closures.

Though both Currys have busy lives, they are far more than foundation figureheads — they are active, engaged leaders.

“They’re good at deputizing their staff,” said Helfrich, who said ELP will be at seven full-time employees by summer. “But I talk to them individually once a week, and collectively more than that, through text and Zoom. No major decision is made without them. But I try to be careful about taking up too much of their time.”

The Currys are investing their time, their money and their energy. And their futures.

“This is a priority,” Stephen said. “Obviously, basketball is the main thing. But this is setting a great foundation for how I spend my focus in the future.”

Story Source: https://www.sfchronicle.com/sports/annkillion/article/Steph-and-Ayesha-Curry-s-stunning-impact-on-16107689.php

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