There’s nothing quite like soup for the soul, and during time of quarantine and social isolation, that rings true more than ever, Noor owner Robert Shahnazarian and his wife, Maggie, discovered recently.
The owners of the Pasadena-based premier event and wedding venue were recently faced with the painful task of cancelling all planned celebrations at its site and shutting down operations amid the “Safer at Home” order put in place throughout L.A. County and city of Pasadena. Like many small businesses, Noor had to furlough or lay off some employees until further notice, and that act cut deep.
They still had a large order of food perishables for an upcoming, event-filled weekend — before having to shutter its doors — and Shahnazarian eyed the remainder of his dejected staff, standing idly by. He had heard that seniors in the community, already challenged by isolation, were suffering further from food insecurity and social distancing measures, and not able to find what they needed at the grocers due to the massive hoarding seen the first few weeks of COVID-19 fears.
So the Shahnazarians decided to repurpose Noor into a community kitchen to provide nutrient-dense, immune-boosting vegetarian soups to seniors and to its out-of-work employees at no cost.
“We feel it is our duty to use our resources to help provide the community with nourishment,” said Robert Shahnazarian. “With a commercial kitchen, talented chefs and access to a food supply chain, sitting on the on the sidelines and waiting for this crisis to end is not an option for us. Soup is a transformative food you can actually feel as it sustains you and provides an easy way to eat nutrition.
“At a time when social distancing and personal hand hygiene are the primary recommendations coming from health officials, our employees will be focused on providing the community with nutritious soups containing whole food, plant-based ingredients to strengthen our collective immune system,” he said.
They put the word out through the city and the Pasadena Senior Center, and had a great response the first Friday of operation, with about 120 people coming in person and another 30 containers, each containing 32 ounces, being picked up for delivery.
It was such a success, Noor has decided to continue “Community Soup” each Friday, for pickup from 3-5 p.m. They have created an elegant pathway in the spirit of the luxury event site, and put in place a social distancing queue, marked in red every six feet so people know where to stand.
Pasadena Senior Center Executive Director Akila Gibbs said she let all of their members know about the free soup though an email blast, and then picked up the remainder to be frozen and stored at the center. Senior Center staff will be able to distribute it along with some of their food pantry items throughout the week, she noted.
“I think what Noor [and Robert] and his staff are doing is wonderful on all fronts — he is keeping what staff he can employed, and is providing a nourishing meal to people in need,” Gibbs said. “I applaud him for that — I call those people good corporate citizens. Good businesses that care about the community in which they operate and want to give it back, that’s really admirable.”
Gibbs noted that Noor’s efforts to reach senior citizens in the community are especially heartwarming. The elderly and homebound community has always struggled with social isolation, and now there’s a lot of food insecurity to go along with it. Nearly 14% of older adults in Pasadena live below the poverty line.
“On a good day it’s not uncommon for us to see people making decisions between cutting their medications in half, paying rent or eating. Seniors are very proud, so by the time they ask for help it’s really desperate for them,” Gibbs said. “We have seen a huge uptick in demand since the COVID-19 measures are taking effect. We’re already dealing with a vulnerable population that was barely getting by before, so it doesn’t take much to throw them into a tailspin.”
Shahnazarian said he and Noor staff are enacting the strictest health standards to keep its kitchens safe. Before the more strict “Safer at Home” policy was enacted, he had already ordered gloves, N95 masks and HEPA Air Purifier systems using medical grade filtration. His staff also gets daily temperature checks before starting their shift.
He is now reaching out to service providers in the community to try and enact partnerships for the soup distribution. As of now, one of Noor’s food providers has offered up all the packing containers.
“We will continue to provide this service to seniors in the community until we have flattened the curve and can all safely return to work,” he said. “We’re trying to keep some hope alive for everyone.”