DC’s Medium Rare: 300,000 free meals (and counting)

For the free meals it has distributed during the pandemic, and other community involvement, Medium Rare restaurant has won the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Community Support and Leadership Award as part of the Chamber’s 2021 Dream Big Awards.

And there have been a lot of free meals.

Medium Rare owner Mark Bucher said he realized at the onset of the pandemic last year that many D.C. residents were going to be food challenged, and he wanted to do what he could to help.

It started with a tweet on the Medium Rare Twitter account in March 2020 announcing anyone in D.C. who was quarantined and needed a meal could get one for free.

“When I put the tweet out, I did so without talking to my business partners. The first call was ‘What are you doing?,’ and I said. ‘We just have to do this. We’ll figure it out,” Bucher said.

Medium Rare initially distributed more than 30,000 meals and, by summer of 2020, when D.C. Public Schools made the decision to remain virtual, the effort morphed into a larger food distribution program called “Feed the Fridge.”

“My first reaction was, if they are virtual, how are they going to get fed. We finally realized in D.C., a lot of the kids were going to Parks and Rec centers to get free Wi-Fi for remote schooling. We borrowed some refrigerators. We installed nine refrigerators at nine Parks and Rec centers and started filling them up every day with meals,” Bucher said.

Mark Bucher (Courtesy Medium Rare)

To date, Feed the Fridge has distributed more than 300,000 free meals and has a goal of giving out 500,000 meals by the end of 2021.

Feed the Fridge is now located in community centers across D.C., Montgomery County and Prince George’s County with more than a dozen other D.C. restaurants contributing, which Feed the Fridge pays for their meals, supporting restaurants as well, through Bucher’s recently formed nonprofit We Care, Inc.

The Feed the Fridge meals are now available for anyone who needs them, not just students.

“People come and grab as many meals as they need each day, and it’s free. Each refrigerator gets stocked with between 10 and 100 meals a day,” Bucher said.

Bucher said he and his other restaurant partners prepare the restaurant-quality meals with equal parts protein, produce and carbs for what he calls dignified, healthy, nutritious chef-prepared meals.

In addition to Feed the Fridge, Bucher and Medium Rare have provided free meals to homebound seniors. As the pandemic continued, Bucher added holiday meals for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and Passover for those seniors living alone. Holidays, he said, are tough on homebound seniors.

Volunteer delivers food
Volunteer delivers meal to homebound senior in the D.C. area. (Courtesy Medium Rare)

Though he declines to say how much has been spent out-of-pocket, much of the funding for these donations has come directly from Bucher and his business partners. He said there has been a tremendous amount of support from Medium Rare patrons and the community, who have made contributions directly or through a GoFundMe campaign, which has raised more than $60,000.

Today, Feed the Fridge relies mostly on private donations from corporations and community partners.

On Oct. 21, Medium Rare was recognized with a Community Support and Leadership Award from the annual U.S. Chamber of Commerce Dream Big Small Business of the Year awards.

In addition to Medium Rare, out of eight awards given nationwide, two other D.C.-area establishments were recognized by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce: Alexandria-based Building Momentum was selected for the Veteran-Owned Business Achievement Award, and Winchester, Virginia-based Hideaway Cafe was selected for the LGBTQ-Owned Business Achievement Award.

Jeff Clabaugh

Jeff Clabaugh has spent 20 years covering the Washington region's economy and financial markets for WTOP as part of a partnership with the Washington Business Journal, and officially joined the WTOP newsroom staff in January 2016.

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