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Unsung Heroes 2020: Maria Brunner

IQ's fourth Unsung Hero is Maria Brunner, whose company Musically Fed has providing meals to live industry workers since the March lockdown

By IQ on 12 Jan 2021

Maria Brunner, Musically Fed

Maria Brunner

Unsung Heroes 2020, published in IQ 95 just before Christmas, is a tribute to some of the organisations and individuals who have gone above and beyond to help others during a year unlike any other – be that through their efforts to protect the industry, or helping those who were in desperate need.

We turned to the readership and asked you to nominate worthy causes and personalities for consideration as the inaugural members of our Unsung Heroes awards. Now, IQ can reveal the dozen most-voted Unsung Heroes of 2020, continuing with Musically Fed founder Maria Brunner, who follows the NTIA’s Michael Kill.

Musically Fed was initially formed five years ago with the purpose of taking leftover backstage catering from concerts and live events in the United States and repurposing it to those in need, with a special focus on serving veterans’ organisations.

“We have repurposed food from local concerts and festivals in Phoenix, [Arizona], and special events like CMA Fest and the Grammys, and we were working national tours with artists like Elton John, Fleetwood Mac, Shawn Mendes, the Lumineers, the Zac Brown Band and more to repurpose backstage catering in each market of their tour,” explains founder Maria Brunner. “When live events stopped happening and we realised our own industry workers were now in need, we quickly pivoted.”

Including December, since the pandemic shut down live events Musically Fed has provided 122,462 meals.

“In March, we reached out to [food and beverage supplier] Levy [Restaurants] to take Phoenix Suns catering from Talking Stick Resort Arena and distribute it to the community in Phoenix. In addition, we reached out to the Staples Center and the Los Angeles Convention Center and were able to repurpose everything they had for school lunch programmes across the city of Los Angeles.”

“Through private donations and creative peer-to-peer fundraising, we are able to bring food into these cities in need”

Brunner continues, “In April, our drive-through food distributions started with a phone call to Jake Berry, who quickly brought in Jeff Giek from Rhino Staging. It was obvious from that phone call that gig workers across the country were either not going to qualify for unemployment, or what they were going to get was not much. Because Rhino’s corporate office is located in Phoenix, we decided to try a drive-through food distribution programme that would provide prepared meals and produce to families in need.”

The concept began with 50 cars, and throughout the months the process has been refined to the point where nobody has to leave their car. Rather, Rhino volunteers put boxes of produce, prepared food, and dry goods in the boot of each recipient’s car.

“Once we had the programme refined, we launched it in Denver, thanks to a partnership with Conscious Alliance. That programme serves 50 families in need every week. Phoenix serves 50–100 families twice a month. And thanks to a grant and partnership with World Central Kitchen, we have been conducting drive-through food distributions every other week in Nashville, where special thanks is being given to Clair Global and Bandit Lites for hosting these drive-throughs.”

Indeed, noting just how much the live music production community has stepped up during the pandemic crisis, Brunner reveals Musically Fed has been able to launch a national programme, focusing on key cities in need.

“The first was Nashville on 12–13 July,” she recalls. “We distributed food to over 200 live music and entertainment industry workers in need, and distributed 22,000 meals to those in need throughout the city overall, through outlets like the Store and Nashville Rescue Mission.

“Musically Fed hopes to serve those in need as long as they need it”

On Labor Day, Musically Fed partnered with Just a Bunch of Roadies and Loaves and Fishes to host a 200-car drive-through in Minneapolis for industry workers in need. “We have since held similar large-scale initiatives in Atlanta in partnership with Midwest Food Bank and the Infinite Energy Center, as well as in San Diego,” reports Brunner.

“All of these have been made possible by the support of Jake Berry of Jake Berry Productions, Charlie Hernandez of Just a Bunch of Roadies, Jeff Giek of Rhino Staging, Rutger Jansen of Insomniac Events, and Chris Schuman of James Thomas Productions. Through private donations and creative peer-to-peer fundraising, we are able to bring food into these cities in need, rather than deplete their food banks.”

With no end to the pandemic certain as yet, Brunner comments, “Through 2021, we plan to keep up bi-weekly food distributions January through June for Phoenix, Nashville and Denver, and we would like to do major distributions in Austin, Dallas and New Orleans if we can get the funding.

“I think the vaccine is going to be helpful, but I also think it’s going to take time to work with local and state governments to come up with a very focused and organised game plan to get live music back on its feet, depending on the tour and the artist. Musically Fed hopes to serve those in need as long as they need it.”


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