Photo courtesy of Marco Morosini.
Heart to Table participants hand out meals to the homeless at Boutwell Auditorium’s warming station.
When the nights got cold in Birmingham this winter, there was a team of restaurants, including one in Hoover, ready and waiting to provide a hot meal for the city’s homeless.
Heart to Table is an organization started by Marco Morosini, the owner of Silvertron Cafe in Forest Park, to serve dinner at Boutwell Auditorium every night it is open as a warming station. In its first winter, Heart to Table provided over 1,500 meals through a partnership among 10 area restaurants.
“I’m trying to bring in a sense of community,” said Morosini.
One of those partners is Vecchia Pizzeria and Mercato, located in the Preserve. Allison Nichols, Vecchia’s director of marketing, said they found out about Heart to Table in January through Facebook. She and owners Benard and Brianna Tamburello all agreed that they wanted to play a part.
“Just giving back to the community — it’s nothing fancy… That’s what we’re called to do,” Nichols said. “So when an opportunity arises, and Marco was so easy to work with, and the process is easy and it’s helping a lot of people at one time, then it’s kind of a no-brainer.”
Vecchia didn’t have a chance to serve a meal at Boutwell this winter, but they hope to next year. When Morosini gives the call, Vecchia’s kitchen staff has to be prepared to create at least 200 meals on less than a day’s notice. Nichols said the food they provide will likely be staples such as pasta, salad and bread to create a simple but complete dinner.
“This may be the only meal that these people can eat,” Morosini said, adding that he would like the Heart to Table restaurants to feed the homeless “as well as you and I would like to eat.”
Nichols said Vecchia has cooked for larger crowds before, but the short notice they’ll be given — Morosini can’t make the call until Boutwell decides to open its warming station — may make her unpopular in the kitchen.
“The kitchen is probably going to hate me for a hot minute,” she laughed.
Morosini said his most frequent challenge is coordinating the restaurants, especially ones with small kitchens.
“When you have a machine that works 100 miles per hour, I need to be able to stop the machine and cook for 200 people in a short period of time,” Morosini said.
Vecchia already participates in fundraisers and spirit nights in the community for different causes, but Nichols said Heart to Table provides a connection to their neighbors outside Hoover.
“The more people you can touch and impact in a positive way, the better community you have,” Nichols said.
Morosini said he was surprised by the response in the first year of his program, which started as a proposal through Leadership Birmingham. In addition to the 10 restaurants across the Birmingham metro, he’s also had help from United Way, local banks and private donors.
Heart to Table raised about $5,000 in a matter of weeks, which Morosini said he has saved to help restaurants cover some of their food expenses. So far, however, not a single restaurant has requested reimbursement. In return, Heart to Table tries to share their partners’ participation frequently to give them exposure to customers who support the work they do.
“I think it’s great that locally owned restaurants get exposure to a market they didn’t know they had before,” Morosini said.
Nichols said she would like to see more restaurants, whether inside or outside Hoover city limits, offer their kitchens to feed the homeless when cold nights come around again in the fall.
“Birmingham has so many great pockets but at the same time we’re all one big moving piece,” Nichols said.
“You have Hoover and you have Homewood and you have Mountain Brook, but I mean, imagine the power that we can have if we all come together and not view each other as a competition.”
“To be able to offer a warm meal… it just hopefully will make at least one person’s day better,” she added.