Chef Chris Williams is carrying on his family’s legacy through his nonprofit organization Lucille’s 1913. The organization, born during the COVID-19 pandemic, provides hot meals to senior citizens in predominantly Black neighborhoods and living facilities.
Myrtle Jones is a resident of W. Leo Daniels Towers and one of hundreds of senior citizens who receive a hot meal through the nonprofit. Ms. Jones says she is grateful to receive the meals because she was unsure what she would do once the pandemic hit. “It was a Godsend to all of us,” Jones said. “I didn’t have to cook. I didn’t have to go buy, and the thought of somebody else thinking about us, whether we have a pandemic or not, is a blessing in disguise. That’s why I say to myself all the time when one door closes, one always opens.”
Eight years ago, Williams opened Lucille’s in the heart of Houston’s Museum District as a tribute to his great grandmother Lucille B. Smith. She was a pioneer and innovator in the culinary world, who frequently was referred to as “the first African-American businesswoman in Texas.” Chef Williams created the nonprofit to continue her legacy. “It’s in our DNA. I named the nonprofit 1913 because that’s when my great-grandmother started her business. She saw a need in her community, and through churches, she started serving. That genesis runs through me and my entire family. She was one of the first female entrepreneurs in the country to go as far as she did,” Williams said.
Since April 2020, Chris and his team of 13 staff members have provided thousands of free meals to those in need. The team started off preparing 100 to 300 meals per day, only a couple of days a week. Now the team organizes and delivers up to 1,500 meals a day.
Maintaining the nonprofit was not always easy. Williams found it challenging to get property managers to receive the meals at first due to the coronavirus pandemic. “ Finally, six months in, 80,000 meals later, the city of Houston has just come up with the Cares Act that will handle some of the costs that I’ve had serving the communities,” Williams added. The Cares Act will give Houston $11.5 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to spend toward various initiatives like Lucille’s 1913.
Williams plans to open about seven more kitchens across the Houston area by the end of 2021. He says he wants to provide resources so that these impoverished communities will not only have access to better quality foods, but they will be able to see the process of how to grow them as well. “With every kitchen, we’re doing we also have community gardens to go behind it,” he explained. “I think it’s something that has the potential to be done on a national level because the need is there. Not only give these communities fish but teach them how to fish too.”
To donate to Lucille’s 1913 by sponsoring a community for a day or sponsoring one meal, visit www.lucilles1913.org.