(KPIX 5) -- After the Santa Rosa fires in 2017, food writer Heather Irwin said many chefs were asking her, "'How do we help?'"
So Irwin took charge.
The Press Democrat and Sonoma Magazine writer rounded up some of the Bay Area's top chefs. They whipped up nutritious, restaurant-quality meals for displaced families to pick up for free.
"They wanted comfort, they wanted something that would make them feel good," said Irwin.
Sonoma Family Meal was born. The nonprofit has served more than 180,000 free meals to fire survivors like Dorothy Hughes.
"I can't thank them enough. They probably saved my life," said Hughes.
Dorothy had just lost her husband and dog when the fire rendered her trailer uninhabitable. "The outpouring of love and help has meant so much to me," Hughes said.
Volunteer Kim Rothstein says Irwin united a caring community. "That idea that she had. It was just brilliant," Rothstein declared.
Months after the fire, the need was still there, so Irwin and her volunteers continued to feed families.
"Many of the families have moved up to four times and are still in temporary housing," Irwin explained.
Today, volunteers cook 1,200 chef-made meals a week in a commercial kitchen. They rely on private donations and contributions from Michelin-star chefs to home cooks.
Eighty families pick up the meals at the distribution site, Franchetti's Restaurant in Santa Rosa. The food is all packed up in cooler bags, ready to go.
Recipients like Melissa Barnett are still trying to get back on their feet. She lived in a FEMA trailer last year after her home burned down, and appreciates what Sonoma Family Meal brings to her life.
"These are people who care about us and haven't forgotten," said Barnett. "There's often flowers here and a place to connect."
Irwin and her volunteers give the gift of compassion.
"They know every family by name, they know their stories, they know when they're having a bad day and they can come and talk to us," Irwin said.
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