Fort Worth YWCA’s Power Lunch program serves up more than food

08/06/2014 4:27 AM

08/06/2014 4:28 AM

Fruit-colored bicycles wheeling through downtown at noon are delivering more than sandwiches for lunch. They’re also carrying women toward better lives.

Power Lunch, a sandwich make-and-take delivery service operated by the YWCA Fort Worth and Tarrant County, marked its second anniversary in July. Power Lunch provides boxed sandwiches to downtown businesses and customers who order online.

Sandwich sales help fund YWCA programs, but the bigger benefit is the agency’s policy of employing women who are escaping homelessness or bad situations. The women learn job and life skills such as customer service, dependability and fiscal responsibility.

Power Lunch has three employees: General Manager Marquita Romero-Fernandez, lead cook Andrew Jackman, and Dena Aldridge, a delivery driver who also assists in kitchen duties and sandwich production. They are hoping to hire a second delivery driver soon.

The startup social enterprise hasn’t hit a fiscal break-even point yet, Raben said, but the mission of moving women and children out of poverty by providing work experience has been a success. Since opening in July 2012, Power Lunch has employed eight clients, four of whom went on to find full-time work.

Aldridge, a YWCA client, has worked as a driver and sandwich maker since May 27. She had volunteered in the Y’s developmental department for a few hours every day since moving to the YWCA.

“It’s a learning experience,” Aldridge said of her new job. “You learn something new every day; you build communication skills and learn to deal with a variety of customers. It builds your confidence.”

She makes four to eight delivery trips a day, half by bicycle.

“A busy day is when we get the regular orders and a big business order, too,” she said. Her favorite part of the job is the kitchen work, assembling sandwiches and wrapping cookies.

Her goal is to study at Tarrant County College to be a paralegal and someday work in a law office.

Fresh food, in a hurry

All of Power Lunch’s sandwiches, salads and catering products are produced fresh in a commercial kitchen shared with a child development center in the Historic YWCA building at 512 W. Fourth St. The ornate facilities date back to 1927 when the building opened as an Elks Lodge hotel.

Power Lunch averages sales of 30 to 40 sandwiches a day, and as of January, had delivered to more than 80 companies in Fort Worth.

“The food is always fresh. It’s real meat, not the typical processed luncheon meat,” said Mercedes West, assistant office manager for Bennett Benner Partners, an architectural design firm in the Bank of America building. “We heard about the program, and we want to buy local when we can.”

The firm usually orders lunch trays for meetings at least once a month, and staff members order individual lunches often.

The volume of orders varies month to month, Raben said, and even day to day.

Officials originally targeted delivery service in downtown and Sundance Square, but now deliveries are made by vehicle to the University of North Texas Health Science Center, TCU and Justin Boots.

Power Lunch’s chef-designed menu includes familiar sandwich and salad choices that are upscaled with imaginative ingredients and condiments. Meats are roasted in-house; cookies are baked daily from scratch.

Box lunches run $10 and include a sandwich or salad, sea salt chips and a cookie.

Power Lunch also caters business events and corporate meetings on-site at the Historic YWCA.

Planners are now broadening the number of healthy items on the menu, including a gourmet Italian steak salad, a honey-glazed goat cheese salad and a dill shrimp salad. They are also developing new catering items for the on-site corporate meetings.

“It’s really been such a fun experience, too,” Raben said.

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