On their one day off together each week, partners Chris Cubas and Maris Clegg wake up early and begin cooking.
With their Sundays free from full-time employment — Cubas works for Apple, Clegg for a hotel — they whip up a couple of large batches of red beans and rice. Originally from New Orleans, Clegg knows the Southern staple well, and they each know the impact of a home-cooked meal in times of financial and emotional hardship.
In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Cubas and Clegg have spent Sundays cooking and delivering meals for people around Austin who are experiencing food insecurity. Over the past nine weeks, and with the help of volunteers, they’ve made and dropped off nearly 200 dinners for people in the community through Red Beans and Ricely Yours, Austin.
The meals, which vary slightly every week but always consist of red beans and rice as the main dish, typically come with a side of fruit, a snack, a homemade dessert and a beverage.
"I've definitely been in a position where I've been food insecure," Cubas said. "I think a lot of people were put in that position by the pandemic and the effect it had on the economy."
"We initially felt helpless as to what we could do," Clegg added. "We just felt we had to do something in our small way, and this was it."
Through an anonymous Google form posted every Tuesday, the couple get meal requests from people who have been furloughed or laid off, have kids home from school and more responsibilities to bear, or are seeking the comfort of having someone else prepare a meal for them or their family.
"Not having to worry about a home-cooked meal when times are tough seems like a load would be let off," Cubas said.
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Though they make a mean dinner, they admit that neither of them is a dessert- or snack-making expert. Using Cubas’ social media presence — which he has developed over time as an Austin comedian — and a new Facebook page, they have bridged that gap and gathered a host of volunteers.
Some are friends or acquaintances, and some are strangers just looking to help. Either way, the couple have a lineup of bakers booked through August.
"We didn’t know we would keep doing this (nine) weeks later, and we certainly couldn’t have done any of this without the support of our community, of our friends, everybody who contributed," Clegg said.
Sharon Bright, who works at Uchiko, is one of those community members who has offered to help. Though she isn’t close friends with the couple, she knows Cubas through the comedy world and saw what they were doing on Facebook.
A self-taught baker, Bright makes cookies for hospice when she can, and she’s volunteered to make cookies for Cubas’ and Clegg’s weekly meals. Bright has made snickerdoodles, as well as her recent favorite, salted oatmeal cookies. Though she usually makes them with dried cherries and pistachios, she’s been keeping them nut-free in case of allergies.
"Everybody loves to have a warm cookie," Bright said. "There’s something satisfactory about somebody giving you that as a thank-you. As a love."
While the city is unable to socialize as it did before because of the pandemic, Bright wanted to give people the comfort and connection of having someone else cook for them.
"That seems like it’s a silly thing, but it’s such a big part of what Austin is about," she said. "Our restaurant scene and our bar scene and our community as a whole is based in music, food and social activity. I think it’s really a pulling-together point."
Aside from Bright, some volunteers have donated ingredients — Cubas and Clegg have 25-pound bags of donated rice and beans waiting in their kitchen — and others have offered to deliver the meals. One week, a volunteer smoked a brisket to add to the dinners.
The meals are delivered using BPA-free reusable containers and compostable or reusable to-go bags. Delivery is contactless, and the drivers wear masks.
"There’s a lot of uncertainty right now," Bright said. "If nothing else, maybe I can pass on to somebody that might be struggling something really nice to eat and not have to worry — at least for one meal a week. That’s such a thoughtful and good thing to push into the community right now."