Delivered with Care
Sarah Moyer’s Project Lunch transforms to Project Love
By Julie Koerber, Photography by Daniel Sullivan In the heart of Sarah Moyer’s commercial kitchen, she’s busy writing what she calls a love note on one of her customer’s delivery orders. A salad made with the freshest of ingredients is arranged perfectly in a stainless-steel container. She places the cloth napkin on top and beneath the colorful band that keeps the lid and everything inside in place, she tucks in the note that reads, “Enjoy your Chicken BLT Salad, ♥Sarah.”
“I’m really big on presentation,” Sarah says, smiling. “Everything is in the details and the beauty of it.”
As she walks around the space she shares with Miss GiGi’s Sweets in the old Log Cabin Bakery building in downtown Billings, she shows off the heart of her business, Project Lunch. The mission of the business is to deliver healthy homemade lunches to a person’s workplace or home. Lunch consists of either salads or wraps with locally sourced meats and produce and packaged in stainless steel containers to reduce waste. Sarah arranges to pick up the containers later.
“As a child, my job was to make the salad,” she says, a chore that might have foreshadowed her latest enterprise. “I have pictures of me in my house in Portland standing on this stool in our yellow, avocado-green and orange kitchen.” She laughs as she adds, “I would assemble the salad in the bowl and I would tell my family that they needed to cut the salad because I arranged it how it was supposed to be served.”
After being in business two and a half years, Sarah was just starting to book large-scale events. “We were set to multiply our business more than eight times what we did last year,” she says. And then, COVID-19 struck. Before the pandemic, Project Lunch had at least one large event booked weekly. Daily, she’d deliver around 30 individual lunches.
But by mid-March, her calendar had been wiped clean of catering jobs — including a contract for a $10,000, two-day event — and she was wondering how she’d keep her business rolling. She had $750 in the bank and a $2,000 payroll due by week’s end.
“I thought, there is no way I am going to let my business die,” she says. “I have never paid myself, but I wasn’t going to be in a position where I couldn’t pay my employees. Something had to happen.”
On Sunday, March 15, Sarah was busy in the kitchen prepping corned beef for the weekly special. Her husband, Nathan, was nearby washing dishes. When they learned that Gov. Steve Bullock had signed an order shutting down schools indefinitely, Sarah says, “I turned to my husband and I said, ‘Stop doing dishes. We are going to Costco.’ He asked why and I said, ‘We are going to get lunches going. There are going to be kids who need food.’”
Having worked in the past for Head Start, in her mind she could see the faces of hungry children and distressed parents who might not have a source for lunch with schools closed.
“When people don’t have a job, they don’t have gas or don’t have a vehicle,” Sarah begins, “they might need help. Their children might not be able to survive without breakfast or lunch.”
After stocking up on enough bread to make 1,000 sandwiches with all the fixings, she jumped on the “I’ll Help Billings” Facebook page and announced that starting the next day, the first day of school closures, she’d be delivering lunches anywhere in Yellowstone County.
She never put pen to paper to see if the plan would work financially.
“I just had faith,” Sarah says. “I just knew we were going to feed children and I was going to keep my employees busy for as long as I could.”
She added an item on her website so people could order a lunch with just a first name, an address and the number of lunches the household needed. Before long, cash donations started coming in to help fuel the effort. For every $10 donated, three lunches were delivered to kids in need. A logo was created by one of Sarah’s friends, Jen Rahr of Deer Creek Design Studio. Project Love was born.
After putting out a social media blast, Sarah says, “That first day, we had 19 lunches. On the second day, we had more than 65, and on the third day, we had well over 100. Now, we consistently do 220 lunches a day anywhere in Yellowstone County.”
The lunches are simple but packed with nutrition. Sarah is always looking for ways to add a smile inside each brown bag. Tuesday and Thursday, lunches get coloring sheets with their peanut butter and jelly or Nutella and banana sandwiches. Monday, the turkey and cheese sandwich gets a juice box added in. A cheese stick or frozen Go-gurt serves as a treat along with baby carrots, an apple, banana or clementine.
Packing the lunches looks like a buzzing assembly line. Full-time employee Holli Klein will often have her 11-month-old son, Witten, on her hip or sitting nearby in his bouncy seat. As a former Head Start preschool teacher, she says, “It makes me cry knowing that these families and kids have food that is coming to them each day.” As Witten lets out a squeal as if to agree, Holli adds, “Anything we can do to help is a blessing to my heart.”
By mid-June, Project Love delivered its 12,000th lunch, thanks to more than $20,000 in community donations and a $5,000 grant. Sarah built a line of Project Love swag to raise funds and enlisted an army of 25 volunteers each week to help.
“We have volunteers to pick up everything and deliver it for us,” Sarah says. “It’s been incredible. It makes me feel hopeful.”
Sarah knows that one day, Project Love might take a back seat to her blossoming business. She can’t wait for the day her calendar starts to fill up with catered events. As she talks about her future, she’s on a mission to make Project Lunch into a Fortune 500 company, one that can serve communities far and wide.
“We are figuring out all the nuts and bolts – all the things we need to duplicate and grow it,” Sarah says. “We are a very small business, but we have very big dreams.”
As she talks a little bit about her family history, Sarah says food is a family love. Her great-grandfather owned and operated a semolina pasta factory in Sacramento, California. “His business actually went under during the Great Depression,” Sarah says, adding, “I knew we couldn’t go under.”
Instead, she reflects on how her enterprise morphed to serve a community need. “I could either curl up in my shell, go home and close up shop and try again later or I could say, we did what we could.” She says, without a shadow of a doubt, that Project Lunch will survive.
As for its sister enterprise, Project Love, Sarah says with a smile on her face and an ever-present sparkle in her eye, “We are going to keep it going for as long as people need it.”
FOR MORE ON PROJECT LUNCH & PROJECT LOVE, visit www.projectlunch.biz