Fuel the People's Gaiana Joseph to Sit on Fancy Food 24/7 Panel


22 Sep 2021

Gaiana Joseph, a co-founder and director of Fuel the People will sit on a panel during next week’s Fancy Food 24/7 digital event, along with fourth-generation butcher Cara Nicoletti and Vanessa Pham, co-founder of Omsom. The three were  named to SFA’s 12 Under 35: Breakout Talent to Watch list. The session, SFA’s 12 Under 35 Panel: Innovators Changing Specialty Food, will take place Thursday, September 30 at 11 a.m.

Following is the story about how Joseph co-founded Fuel the People.

Long before they launched Fuel the People, Gaiana Joseph, 26, and Allegra Tomassa Massaro‘s friendship revolved around social justice and good food.

“We knew each other from college,” says Massaro, 29. “We kept in touch attending social justice conferences and by sharing food.”

Massaro had organized some protests while attending Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, but since moving to Washington D.C., hadn’t been that involved. A pivotal moment was when she, her brother Lorenzo Massaro, 31, and some friends joined the crowds protesting the death of George Floyd at the hands of the police, in front of the White House.

“We were running away from tear gas,” recalls Allegra of the chaotic scene. “But there was a huge sense of community among everyone. People were taking the time to pull out safety equipment, to make sure everyone was okay.”

Shaken by the experience, Allegra, her brother, and friends reflected on what had happed the following day.

“We felt overwhelmed with sadness, anger, and disappointment,” she says. “The role of organizing protests didn’t feel like where I needed to be anymore. And I love to make food; it’s how I show love. So we thought, why don’t we make sandwiches for the people at the protests. We need these people to keep showing up and coming back. We wanted to contribute to that sense of community.”

Meanwhile, Gaiana and her brother, Roodharvens Joseph, 20, were having a similar idea in New York.

“My little brother, Roodharvens, had handed out pizza to protesters during the Michael Brown protests and he was planning to do the same for the George Floyd protests,” Gaiana says.

Inevitably, she came to the same conclusion as Allegra.

“All of the sudden I had a new way to involve myself,” Gaiana says.

To fund their efforts, the Massaro siblings posted on Instagram, linking to a Venmo account. Within the first two days, it had raised $15,000 from people across the world.

“We empowered and involved groups of people who didn’t know how to channel their desires to aid the movement,” says Lorenzo.

In New York, Gaiana had likewise sought funds via social media.

“I went to Costco and paid out of pocket. Then I came home and checked, and I got $1,000 in the first hour. And people kept donating!” she says.

The foursome created Fuel the People and ultimately raised $30,000 in 48 hours. As the movement gained traction, the organization’s goals grew.

“We realized we could use the money to help black-owned restaurants,” says Gaiana who sought help from Senegalese chef and owner of Ponty Bistro in Harlem, Ejhadji Cisse.

“With just two days’ notice, he helped us make hundreds of sandwiches; and they were delicious!” she says.

Under the motto “food with dignity and compassion,” Fuel the People built a network of restaurants, chefs, and caterers, which enabled them to feed protesters dishes like brisket mac and cheese or lobster mashed potato bowls.

“We give the restaurants full artistic freedom to make what they feel is special,” Gaiana says.

Fuel the People also fed voters during the 2020 election season, donating 7,000 meals in New York and D.C. beginning at the start of early voting through to election night in November.

After the insurrection of the nation’s capital last January, many homeless and food insecure people were displaced, which became another way that Fuel the People could support individuals in need. The organization works with underserved communities in New York, as well.

“If we’re going to be on the front lines advocating against police brutality, we also have to be in our communities helping prevent it. The fight against black death is great, but it’s also important to fight for black life,” says Allegra.

This is the most important role of the organization, according to Lorenzo, to fuel social justice movements while also reinvesting in the community.

“Food stands at the intersection of health and wealth,” says Roodharvens. “It is time that we consider nutritious and empowering food is a human right. Fuel the People is our way to promote mutual aid and intersectional collaboration.”

Since its founding, Fuel the People has fed nearly 50,000 people and given $100,000 back to POC-owned restaurants. Its founders hope it expands to other cities.

“We refer to it as an accidental organization. We kept showing up, and others kept showing up, too,” says Allegra. “There’s been a huge rhythm to the movement.”

Related: 12 Under 35: Kim and Vanessa Pham, Omsom12 Under 35: Cara Nicoletti, Co-Founder, CEO, Seemore Meats & Veggies.

Image: Caitlyn Gaurano