AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Shift Meal doesn’t want anyone to go hungry during the COVID-19 crisis, but they also don’t want any restaurants to go unnoticed.

That’s why their weekly meal pick-up on Tuesday, June 16 featured black-owned restaurants.

They wanted to shine a spotlight on them as well as help their workers. They served food from SLAB BBQ & Beer, Emoji Grilled Cheese and more.

(KXAN Photo/Todd Bailey)

Managing partner at SLAB BBQ Rafael Robinson has been in the service industry since 1998. He moved to Austin to go to the University of Texas. He is humbled to be included.

“This is my home, these are my people,” Robinson said. “For us to be able to take care of not just our own staff but just an extension of our service industry family, it means a lot to us.”

But beyond the food and buying from black-owned restaurants, Robinson said there’s more to the movement than throwing money at the problem.

“This is not necessarily the light that we would hope for, but we’re thankful for the attention it’s brought to the subject of racism. Period,” he said. “Regardless of us being a black-owned business, I think the awareness that people are realizing, the deep roots and sometimes maybe ‘subtle’ racism.”

For him, he wants to be known for being a great restaurant, not by the color of his skin.

“For providing great food, great customer service regardless of who owns the business. We want to be known for our value and our integrity. As we hope, that is what generates and drives people to support business is by the value and integrity of the business. And so while we have this spotlight and we are thankful for it, we hope that we can be a light and to use our voice to amplify the voices of maybe those who don’t have the spotlight,” he said.

The pick-up ran from 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. at the South Congress Hotel. Mixologist Robert Bjorn Taylor also prepared special cocktails.

(KXAN Photo/Todd Bailey)

The initiative provides meals to furloughed and laid-off restaurant and hospitality workers. They have sold out bags each week since starting in early May, providing more than 1,750 meals, snacks and beverages to Austin’s hospitality workers.

Founder Mandi Nelson oversees the events along with volunteers, many of them also hospitality workers who got laid off, including herself.

“It was founded out of a need for understanding that there’s a lot of restaurant employees that depended on a meal right before their shift started every shift,” Nelson said. “With their jobs going away, this meal went away.”

For her, it’s a “fantastic” way to give back to her friends in the industry, and brings her “a lot of happiness.”

“I have a lot of regulars that come and absolutely love it. Some of them are husband and wife who both got laid off… I’m getting all of these amazing stories from the different people in the community that say that this is a lot of their meals for the week,” she said.

One couple who got laid off said the event is inspiring.

“Just seeing the community come together in such a local and supportive way, it’s a big feeling. It feels like more family than just [where I work] — that family expands to everyone in the hospitality industry… It’s great to be a part of it,” Eddy V’s server Arianna Salinas said. Their downtown location closed March 15 and reopened on May 1 but with only a small limited staff because of capacity limits.

The June 16 pick-up is Austin Shift Meal’s eighth event. If you’d like to request a meal or sign-up for a goodie bag at a future event, visit the “Feed Me” section on their website.

You can also apply to be a restaurant partner or donate. Austin Shift Meal accepts donations through the Austin Food and Wine Alliance. For every $250 donated, local restaurants are able to make 50 to 75 meals, the organization says.