Photo by Pablo Robles

By Connor Dziawura

For the past five years, Maria Brunner has, through her organization Musically Fed, made it her mission to feed the homeless and food insecure locally—and even across the nation.

By teaming up with the likes of artists, management, promoters, venues and caterers, Musically Fed traditionally helps donate leftover backstage food to other organizations—with a focus on helping veterans.

A longtime music industry professional and owner of Insight Management, she started Musically Fed to help veterans in memory of her late husband, a Vietnam veteran.

Then came COVID-19, and the need changed. So, the Scottsdale nonprofit’s mission evolved.

“I received three (anonymous) phone calls from three people saying they had seen us backstage, they knew that we moved food around and they were in need of food,” Brunner recalls.

So, she reached out to production director Jake Berry, whom Brunner describes as “a friend and a good contact,” and was connected with labor staffing company Rhino Staging & Events Solutions, which noted concerns about workers being unable to get unemployment with shows halted.

When Brunner realized individuals such as venue and events staff and security were in trouble, Musically Fed began holding meal and grocery distribution drives to help people in the entertainment/music industry—not just veterans.

“What happened from that is I started reaching out to restaurants that I knew were doing decent at carry-out. I reached out to a couple of food suppliers to see if we could do a car drive-thru, and we’ve been doing one every other week,” Brunner explains.

Throughout events, starting in the spring months and continuing through the summer, donations have included everything from fresh foods and produce to nonperishables, with hundreds of meals provided at some of the events.

In addition to Berry and Rhino, Musically Fed has worked with the likes of Resurrection Street Ministry, Handlebar J BBQ Restaurant & Bar, Chestnut Fine Foods & Provisions, The Duce, El Pollo Loco and Tom Bihn, the latter of which has provided masks. The Van Buren and Gila River Arena hosted some of the distribution drives, too.

Other organizations assisted out of state as well. After the distribution drives started, the efforts spiraled—all the way to San Diego, Denver and Nashville. Atlanta is in discussion, Brunner says.

More than 22,000 meals and several thousand pounds of dry goods were donated to families in Nashville at a July event. Nonprofits received donations, too.

“I did research in Nashville and, jeez … between the tornado, the pandemic and then a horrific storm that came through that we never heard about because God only knows we can only talk about our politicians—they had a storm come through the first week in June that leveled 200 houses—they have no food. And the coronavirus there is an epidemic,” Brunner says.

After many Valley donation drives, Brunner says she is running out of contacts and figuring out how to move forward.

“We’ve been traveling around the Valley in different restaurants that will host us,” she says. “I think I’m done. I don’t know anybody else where I can get the food, but we’re going to try to continue to get produce boxes from the farms. Resurrection Ministry is trying to help us do what we call protein boxes.”

Musically Fed shows—and Brunner emphasizes—that “relationships are everything.”

That can be seen in Musically Fed’s track record since its founding, which includes support provided to MANA (Marines, Army, Navy, Air Force) House, Ryan House, Phoenix Rescue Mission, Catholic Charities, Hospice of the Valley, Los Angeles Mission, The Midnight Mission and Resurrection Street Ministry.

And, over the past five years, Musically Fed has partnered with the likes of Elton John, Fleetwood Mac, Kenny Chesney, Brantley Gilbert, the Lumineers, Shawn Mendes, Zac Brown Band, the Grammys and CMA Fest and has been supported by Florida Georgia Line, Heart, Iron Maiden, Journey and Rascal Flatts, among numerous others, in securing excess tour catering to donate.

Terry Burke of Live Nation has also been one of Musically Fed’s biggest supporters, Brunner notes.

“I think once they hear how simple it is and the fact that they are actually contributing to that sustainability footprint, it’s a win-win,” Brunner says. “There’s just no downside to it.”

However, due to COVID-19, the organization needs help—monetary donations; large bags of dry goods, like oatmeal, cereal, flour, rice, beans, etc.; packaging, such as Ziploc bags in quart or gallon sizes; and connections that can provide goods at wholesale prices or less.

“Here in Phoenix we need food,” Brunner says. “Everywhere else, we honestly need dollar donations, because what we’re capable of buying with the dollar, no one could really buy on their own and do as much as we could. So, we just, honestly, I hate to use this word, but we kind of live hand to mouth.”

Musically Fed also needs volunteers.

“My hope is, as we go through these dark times, those that ‘have’ will realize there’s a lot of people that ‘don’t have’—and it’s not because they asked for this and it’s not because they don’t want to work and it’s not because they’re uneducated and it’s not because they want a handout. It’s not,” Brunner says. “I just hope people understand that this is the time we need to give.”

For more information, visit musicallyfed.org; follow @MusicallyFed on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram; email info@musicallyfed.org or call 480.951.1882.

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