Food program may run out of funds this month

CULVER CITY — A food program that provides free meals from local restaurants to those in need during the COVID-19 pandemic is in danger of running out of funds by the end of the month.

Community leaders with began purchasing restaurant meals in mid-April for food-insecure residents, but estimated that the project only had enough funds to continue distribution through Grace Diner, Grace Lutheran Church’s meal program, for a few more weeks.

Without additional donations, Grace Diner, which has served Culver City residents for the past 11 years, would have to reduce its current grab-n-go daily meal operation to three days a week, until their own funds are exhausted, said program director Lisa Skelley.

The COVID-19 pandemic left many people out of work and without their regular support networks. Restaurants also struggled with low sales after having to close their dining rooms. The Culver City Exchange Club’s Charitable Foundation developed to respond to both problems.

The club’s partner, Grace Diner, also faced challenges in adapting to new safety protocols and a larger need for free meals at the beginning of the pandemic.

Before COVID-19, the program was able to feed people in a restaurant-style setting inside Grace Lutheran Church. “It was like a restaurant,” Skelley said. “We had a wait staff that would serve dinner.  There was music playing in the background. It’s very nice and civilized. Our motto was, ’serving the underserved.’“

When COVID-19 hit, Skelley and her staff of seven volunteers began using the church’s commercial kitchen to prepare packaged meals for weekly distribution on Wednesday afternoons. In mid-April, when stepped in, Grace Diner was able to start distributing meals Monday through Friday.

With this partnership, Grace Diner is able to distribute 200 meals a day, and has distributed over 12,000 in total.

“This is really a unique partnership,” Exchange Club member John Cohn said. “It is reflective of both the compassion and creativity of Culver City and its many leaders.”

The initiative has received more than 500 donations from individuals, corporations and institutions, but needs more to continue.

In the meantime, Grace Diner will continue to serve Culver City residents, Skelley said.

“We’re going to try to find a way to make it work for as long as we can.”

Donations for Grace Diner can be made through or

By Cynthia Gibson

Contributing Writer