Food hugs

During tough times, Jenna Arcidiacono uses food to spread positivity.
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Chef Jenna Arcidiacano preparing a bowl of spaghetti at Amore Trattoria Italiana. Photo by Bryan Esler

Editor’s Note: This is part two of a four-part series on individuals and organizations stepping up to make a difference in Grand Rapids. Read the introduction to the series here.

If you saw a hot pink car this summer, you weren’t dreaming. Amid the pandemic, it was a positive, blushing light of generosity. Owned by chef Jenna Arcidiacono of Amore Trattoria Italiana, this vehicle transported free meals to those in need. From frontline workers and first responders to shut-ins and veterans, Arcidiacono saw this crisis as a way to spread joy through scrumptious cuisine.

“It’s been so hard for everyone — us included, as restaurants — we’ve all been struggling,” Arcidiacono said. “Whether you lost a job or a loved one, we all have needed some pick-me-ups during this time. So, for me, I just knew I wanted to bring a smile, and food does that for people — I like to call them ‘food hugs’ because sometimes just having an unexpected delivery can make your day.”

While Arcidiacono and her husband Maurizio started this food delivery out of their own goodwill, their sense of charity soon created a domino effect. From food donations to financial contributions, the entire community of West Michigan pitched in to help Amore continue this feat. Soon, it even caught the attention of television host Mike Rowe. When Arcidiacono joined his Facebook Watch series, “Returning the Favor,” to discuss her efforts this past summer, Rowe donated $10,000 to help Arcidiacono continue
giving back to the community.

“I like to call them ‘food hugs’ because sometimes just having an unexpected delivery can make your day.”
Chef Jenna Arcidiacono

“No matter what anyone tells you, this has affected everyone — kids, adults and senior citizens. That’s the hard part. Everything seems really negative right now. If you contribute to the negative, you’re not helping, but if you can stay positive, you start to have a positive effect on others,” Arcidiacono said.

When Arcidiacono first started providing this service to the community, she admitted she felt “selfish” because of how much joy she was getting out of the experience. “It makes my day,” Arcidiacono said. “To give someone a nice surprise and see that smile on their face, there’s no better feeling.”

To this day, the delivery that always makes her smile was a drop-off at a nursing home. The meal was for a friend’s father who was not allowed to leave, but desperately missed the venture of dining out and sipping a neat glass of scotch. When dinner came, it was not his standard nursing home meal, but instead, a fresh Amore dish paired with none other than a glass of scotch.

“He was just over the moon. It meant so much to him because he had been in such a low place after losing his wife,” Arcidiacono said.

While Amore has tried to develop creative methods to deal with the pandemic and loss of income, it has been a devastating time for the entire restaurant industry as some beloved places close their doors and others sit precariously on the brink. Because of this, Arcidiacono explained when the community supports local businesses and restaurants, it allows owners to pay it forward to their neighbors.

With her hot pink car as a reminder to smile, she hopes that whenever people see her car, they will spread a wave of generosity no matter what the future holds.

“Being kind to one another doesn’t cost any money,” Arcidiacono said. “You never know what anyone is going through so let’s come together to spread an infectious movement of positivity and compassion.”

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