Sera Cuni’s recipe for success: Combating food insecurity in Chatham County

By Gene Galin

Pittsboro, NC – During Thursday’s Chatham Chamber of Commerce Development Briefing, the audience witnessed the prestigious Duke Energy Citizenship Award being bestowed upon an individual whose commitment to alleviating food insecurity has touched the lives of many. Sera Cuni, a renowned chef and restaurateur, received this honor for her groundbreaking initiative, Feed-Well Fridges.

Duke Energy representatives presented chef Sera Cuni with the Citizenship Award at Thursday’s Chatham Development briefing. (photo by Gene Galin)

A Beacon of Hope Amidst Uncertainty

The Duke Energy Citizenship and Service Award, presented annually, recognizes individuals or groups who exemplify values of integrity, stewardship, inclusion, initiative, teamwork, and accountability in their efforts to serve their communities. In its 120th year of service, Duke Energy acknowledged the profound impact of those who selflessly dedicate their time and talents to bettering the lives of others.

Sera Cuni emerged as the epitome of this spirit of service, viewing her community through a lens focused sharply on addressing food insecurity and food waste. As a chef and restaurateur with over 25 years of experience, including establishments like The Root Cellar Cafe and Catering in Chapel Hill and Cafe Root Cellar in Pittsboro, Cuni has always been passionate about nourishing others through her culinary expertise.

A Call to Action in the Face of Adversity

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 brought to light the stark reality of food insecurity in Chatham County, where more than one in six households struggled to put food on their tables. Concurrently, Cuni recognized the paradoxical coexistence of food insecurity and food waste, with tons of edible food discarded by commercial establishments annually.

Driven by a fervent desire to effect change, Cuni embarked on a journey to tackle this issue head-on. After extensive research and planning, she launched Feed-Well Fridges in August 2023, Chatham County’s first nonprofit community fridge program. The premise was simple yet revolutionary: placing residential fridges in publicly accessible spaces where residents lacked access to fresh, nutritious, and affordable food.

A Recipe for Success: Feed-Well’s Impact

Feed-Well Fridges operates on a principle of inclusivity and accessibility. There are no forms to fill out, no qualifications needed, and no questions asked. Individuals are free to take what they need and leave what they can, fostering a sense of community and dignity.

Within less than a year of its inception, Feed-Well Fridges has made significant strides. Four fridges, two in Pittsboro and two in Siler City, now stand as beacons of hope, with plans for further expansion underway. These fridges serve as lifelines for many, especially aging adults and individuals with disabilities who may struggle to prepare meals.

In addition to the community fridges, Cuni and her dedicated team of volunteers work tirelessly to rescue unsold produce, meats, and prepared foods from local businesses. This effort has not only prevented tons of food from ending up in landfills but has also provided nourishment to countless individuals and families in need.

A Testament to Community Collaboration

The success of Feed-Well would not have been possible without the unwavering support of the community. Local businesses, including restaurants, grocery stores, hospitals, and hospice centers, have rallied behind Cuni’s initiative, generously contributing surplus food to the cause.

Volunteers, the lifeblood of Feed-Well, dedicate their time and energy to ensure the smooth operation of the program. From packing and distributing meals to picking up donations, their commitment to serving others is truly commendable.

A Humble Acknowledgment and Call to Action

In her acceptance speech, Cuni humbly acknowledged the collective effort that has fueled Feed-Well’s success. She emphasized the crucial role played by restaurants and businesses in donating surplus food and thanked her dedicated team of volunteers for their unwavering support.

Cuni’s call to action resonated with the audience, urging them to consider donating excess food to Feed-Well Fridges and supporting this vital initiative. As she concluded her speech, the resounding applause echoed the community’s gratitude for her dedication to serving others.

The Duke Energy Citizenship Award presented to Sera Cuni for Feed-Well Fridges serves as a testament to the power of individuals to effect meaningful change in their communities.