Megan Moore was having lunch with friends from work last year at a new north Lexington restaurant when she noticed neighborhood residents walking by. She realized that many of them probably couldn't afford her meal.
"I just couldn't shake the fact that I love that these local restaurants have come into our neighborhoods," Moore said. "And wouldn't it be cool if people in this neighborhood could actually eat here?"
On her way out, Moore bought a gift certificate and asked restaurant employees to use it to feed anyone who walked in looking hungry but couldn't pay. She did the same thing a few days later at North Lime Coffee & Donuts, near her home in the Castlewood neighborhood.
Moore, training and development director at KVC Behavioral HealthCare Kentucky, started wondering how she could make it easier for others to do the same thing.
So a few months later, when she was accepted into Leadership Lexington, an annual development program run by Commerce Lexington, she suggested a service project built around a concept she called Nourish Your Neighborhood. Others liked the idea, and it became one of four service projects undertaken by this year's class.
Moore and her 12 project team members launched Nourish Your Neighborhood on Nov. 21 at Thai & Mighty Noodle Bowls, a restaurant owned by team member Toa Green. Thai & Mighty donated 20 percent of that day's sales, raising more than $400 to get the project started.
Team members hope to recruit other restaurants to join in time for the next Nourish Your Neighborhood day on Dec. 16. More information, go to Nourishyourneighborhood.com.
"Our hope is to have different avenues for restaurants to participate, depending on what they want to do," she said.
Here is how Moore hopes the program will work: Participating restaurants will come up with a way for them or their customers to donate money, most of which will be used to buy gift cards to that restaurant. The gift cards will be distributed to families in need as identified by the family resource centers in local public schools.
North Lime Coffee & Donuts also signed on. It has created a special doughnut and is donating half the proceeds from its sale to Nourishing Your Neighborhood.
Anyone can make tax-deductible donations to the program through the nonprofit Blue Grass Community Foundation: Bluegrass.kimbia.com/leadershiplex.
"It's basically restaurants creating the opportunity for patrons to donate and then connecting with people in the neighborhood who are in need," Moore said. "And for me, it's also about supporting our local restaurants."
The group has made arrangements with Lexington Traditional Magnet School to be a partner and plans to enlist other Fayette County public schools.
Moore thinks the program could be especially valuable when schools are out for snow days, because many poor children rely on schools for two good meals a day. If they had a gift card to a restaurant within walking distance of their house, it could make a big difference.
The team also plans to partner with and give some of the money to other local organizations working to feed hungry people.
"There are so many incredible organizations in Lexington that are making a huge difference: God's Pantry, Seedleaf, local churches," she said. "We aren't trying to take that over. Nourish Your Neighborhood is just a way to join in that effort and help them."
The team members will graduate from Leadership Lexington in June, but they already are planning to form a permanent organization with nonprofit status to continue the work.
"We hope to make this a lasting, sustainable effort that could be translated to any community anywhere," Moore said.
"I believe that in Lexington we have a very kind, generous, benevolent community." There are people in our community who do really awesome things for other people. This is about connecting those people with people in need."