Bon Appetit celebrates Press Democrat dining editor as agent of change

Heather Irwin’s nonprofit organization, Sonoma Family Meal, was called out for its innovative model of feeding families in need.|

The October issue of Bon Appetit magazine recognizes Press Democrat dining editor Heather Irwin and the nonprofit organization she founded, Sonoma Family Meal, with a 2022 Head of the Table award.

The program celebrates organizations bringing about needed change in the restaurant industry.

“These five honorees are doing critical work, work that heals the restaurant industry and makes it more inclusive, more equitable, and more delicious,” magazine editors said in their announcement.

Irwin’s nonprofit organization, Sonoma Family Meal, was called out for its innovative model of feeding families in need. Irwin founded the group on the fly during the 2017 wildfires to help get healthy, fully cooked meals to residents forced from their homes.

Calling upon her large network of contacts in the food community, Irwin created a central place where restaurants could drop off meals and secured kitchen space where volunteer chefs could prepare food, delivering over 20,000 meals during the crisis. When the Kincade Fire hit in 2019, they quickly mobilized again.

“We help build up the entire food system,” said Irwin. “We’re here supporting this local community for as long as they need it, no questions asked. We served some Tubbs families for over two years.”

During the early days of the pandemic, Irwin realized the same chefs and farmers who had been helping others needed help. She pivoted the group’s mission, using private donations and a $1.2 million contract from the county to buy ingredients from local farmers and pay local restaurants to prepare it.

The income was a lifeline for farmers and restaurateurs, and the meals fed the elderly, migrant farmworkers, and low-income families.

“We’re really trying to be an example of how we can bring our food system together and benefit the community in tough economic times,” Irwin said.

Sonoma Family Meal recently found a permanent home in Petaluma, with a large, flexible kitchen to allow teams of volunteers to work together in times of need and provide incubator space for young food businesses.

“This is something that was born here and is so representative of our community—and that just makes me feel proud,” said Irwin.

Press Democrat Executive Editor Richard Green said Irwin has an “unflinching commitment” to serving the people of Sonoma County.

“Nobody knows the local restaurant and dining scene better than Heather, and I marvel at how she managed to collaborate with so many chefs, farmers and restaurant owners to make Sonoma Family Meal such a critical success when our communities need the help,” Green said.

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