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Local chef feeds 3,000 people every week amid COVID-19

By Emilie Poplett | July 9, 2020 | 4 min read | Community Health, Coronavirus, Investments, Public Health Challenges

N'Gai stands next to a dozen brown bags full of meals

N’Gai Dickerson has cooked in country clubs, fancy restaurants and swanky hotels. But nothing gives him quite as much pride as hopping in his Mobile Kitchen to cook for his community.

Before the pandemic hit, N’Gai would drive across the North Carolina Triad to teach healthy eating and cooking classes in underserved communities. Working for the American Heart Association, N’Gai’s efforts helped address food insecurity in the region. But when the coronavirus reached North Carolina, he knew he had to change course.

With all his classes cancelled, N’Gai is now preparing 3,000 meals a week for people in need.

“What Mobile Kitchen brings to the table is the opportunity to eat healthy during hard times, which is even more important when you want to keep your immune system strong,” he said.

N’Gai delivers his home-cooked meals to homeless shelters, churches, and families in need. The response, he said, has been “nothing but love.”

“I get a little choked up sometimes when I think about it. When you come to their door and you have this food for them, they’re just so appreciative,” he said. “You almost feel like they want you to come in and eat with them. I didn’t get that at the hotels and restaurants and country clubs, so to me it just means so much more.”

But just because he’s not cooking in five star hotels doesn’t mean he doesn’t serve up a first-class meal. His Mobile Kitchen recipes include blackened tilapia and a roasted vegetable medley with a maple glaze. Fan favorites also include comfort food like tailgate chili and healthy dessert options like apple crisp. Many of his recipes use ingredients from local farmers.

He can’t cook up thousands of meals all by himself, though. N’Gai said many chefs who were out of work because of COVID-19 jumped into help. Dozens of volunteers and community partners have joined him to help feed their communities.

Angela Boykin, Healthy Blue’s Medicaid director and chief administrative officer, said Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina is proud to support Chef N’Gai’s efforts as he continues to provide healthy meals to those in need.

“The American Heart Association’s Mobile Kitchen is a wonderful example of an initiative that combines the spirit of innovation, caring and action that we need to ensure that North Carolinians can live healthy lives,” she said.

As far N’Gai is concerned, feeding the hungry is just the right thing to do.

“This is my passion, working with people in the community. But it’s more than a passion, really—it’s my responsibility,” he said. “Healthy Blue has really enabled me to further my dreams for the community. For most chefs who are passionate about what they do, it’s about the people. It’s about serving the people. That’s the core of what we do.”