Otto Perez remembers what it was like growing up so poor as a Cuban immigrant boy in Miami that he qualified for a free school lunch.
And that’s why he sent an Instagram message over the weekend.
Perez, the owner of the Diced restaurants, read a post from Miami-Dade County Public Schools that said that as many as 70 percent of children who rely on free or reduced school lunch were at risk of going hungry as schools closed to control the spread of the coronavirus.
So Perez’s Diced restaurants are donating 200 meals a day to the county’s public schools, which have committed to feeding children while they are out of school, according to a county spokesperson. The organization Communities In Schools of Miami has arranged for Lehman Auto World to deliver Diced’s meals to children at three migrant camps where children are taught by school staff.
Each bowl is identical to a typical Diced kids meal, with chunks of chicken topping rice, black beans, lettuce and diced tomatoes with dressing.
“We are incredibly grateful to Mr. Perez, Communities In Schools of Miami, Lehman Auto World, and the many other community partners who are assisting M-DCPS in its efforts to ensure our students do not need to worry about food insecurity while our schools are closed,” spokesperson Jackie Calzadilla wrote to the Miami Herald in an email.
Perez was 4, his younger brother 3, when he and his parents arrived in Key West on a raft from Cuba in 1993. He said it moved him to find out his meals were going to migrant children who are adapting to life in a new country, with limited resources, as he was.
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“I am middle class now, but I was a Cuban rafter. I was one of those migrant kids,” Perez, a South Miami Senior High grad, said via phone.
Meanwhile, Perez’s business is facing its own existential crisis, as sales have dropped more than 40 percent as cities order dining rooms closed, he said. This week, he has closed the dining areas of his five restaurants and started curbside pickup, as well as continuing delivery through apps. He said he has not laid off any employees yet and will “pay employees as long as possible, even if we’re operating at a loss.”
Still Perez, 31, said he hopes to continue sending lunches to the county schools through next week when students would normally be out for spring break.
“Even if we can only do half the amount,” Perez said, “it’s 100 more than they would have had.”