JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Sulzbacher’s Executive Chef, Calvin Matthew grew up in the Virgin Islands. Living in a household of eight people he learned early on how to stretch a meal. Matthew now serves hundreds of thousands of Jacksonville's homeless population annually. Amid the pandemic, food scarcity, inflation and a loss of volunteers couldn’t stop him and his staff from as he puts it “serving souls.”
"Before I came to this environment you would see homelessness and you just weren't attached to it," Matthew said. "If we all could be honest sometimes you see it and you just walk right by."
Matthew was hired at Sulzbacher as the agency's first ever sous-chef in 2015 and by 2018 he was named its Executive Chef.
"Since I've been here some relationships have formed," Matthew said. "These are real people and you hear some of their stories and it saddens you a bit but I took the opportunity. Ok I'm here now. What can I do, how can I give back? And what I have is my talent and I just poured it out."
The task of feeding Jacksonville's homeless grew exponentially amid the pandemic in 2020 and its challenging effects remain to this day. The number of people served, the associated risks and budget constraints all grew. All while the agency's number of volunteers significantly decreased.
During a typical month prior to the pandemic Matthew worked with more than 3,000 volunteers. On March 18, 2020 his bustling kitchen was void of the helping hands he had grown accustomed to.
"I do remember that day," Matthew said. "It was very confusing. I was scared just like everyone else but I knew that I still had a responsibility. My responsibility is to take care of people who struggle to take care of themselves."
Sulzbacher's staff took care of each other in order to serve hundreds of thousands of Jacksonville's homeless.
"Every staff member was on duty that day just to make sure we got the meals done," Matthew said. "Our dental department, advocates, everyone pitched in where they can."
Two years later the effects of the pandemic can still be seen and felt with inflation, high food prices, tight budgets and an increased need.
But Matthews won't compromise, "I know we're here talking about meals but each one of those meals are attached to a person, a child, somebody's mother. We're returning a little bit of dignity to people through food. That's what we do."
Chef Matthew and his team served more than 480,000 meals in 2021. In spite of all of the tribulations during the height of the pandemic Sulzbacher's kitchen never closed.