Nonprofit Red Beans & Ricely Yours provides homemade food, comfort to those in need

Zoe Tzanis

It’s Saturday afternoon. The kitchen smells strongly of southern spices and sautéed onions. In stained aprons and bulky safety goggles, Chris Cubas and Maris Clegg spend hours prepping vegetables, cutting sausages and soaking red beans. 

“When we’re cooking the food, plating the meals and feeling the weight of a plate of red beans going into a bag, … it really does feel like all of that was worth it because it’s going to someone who needs it,” Cubas said.

When the pandemic hit last March, Apple employee Cubas and boutique hotel worker Clegg said they saw their East Austin community struggle with economic instability and food insecurity. The engaged couple said they felt an obligation to help their neighbors and friends, but they weren’t sure where to start. 

Clegg, born and raised in New Orleans, said she loves to cook red beans and rice because it reminds her of home. While stirring up one of her weekly pots last April, she said she thought if a bowl of red beans made her feel comforted, maybe it could make others feel that way, too. 

“We figured if a pot makes this much, we could probably make enough for 22 people,” Clegg said. “We were just trying to think of any small thing we could do.” 

After a month of brainstorming, the pair started Red Beans & Ricely Yours, a nonprofit initiative that provides free home-cooked meals every week to community members in need. 

“Do we help people that are food insecure? 100%,” Cubas said. “We also help people that are overwhelmed, working from home (or) teaching their kids take something off their plate by not having to cook one meal.”

On Tuesdays, Cubas and Clegg post meal sign-up sheets on their website and social media platforms. On Sundays, they load up the trunks of their cars with food and make deliveries. 

At first, Cubas and Clegg said they provided 22 meals a week, but as demand increased, they expanded to 50 and then 100. They soon developed a network of more than 200 volunteers to help them bake desserts and deliver meals. 

“It’s like this whole circular process,” Clegg said. “The amount of people that have been recipients but then sign up to volunteer, it’s just been incredible. Feeling like a part of a community right now, when we’re so distanced, has been really rewarding.”

As a nonprofit, Red Beans & Ricely Yours relies entirely on community support and donations. Volunteers can sign up to deliver meals or make baked goods on their website. Donations can be made through their Paypal and Venmo, also available on the website. 

Cubas said many of these contributions come directly from UT students such as Callie Patten, who donates monthly to support the cause. 

“I like the aspect of mutual aid that (Red Beans & Ricely Yours) follows,” said Patten, an international relations and global studies junior. “There has always been the need, but this past year with the pandemic (and) the snow, … it seems like a great way for Austinites to just show care … and love for their neighbors.”

Cubas said despite the physical distance, Red Beans has created an abstract sense of community between them, drivers and their customers, that has allowed them to connect through the comfort of warm bowl red beans and rice. 

“If you’re a student, if you’re not a student, it makes no difference to us,” Cubas said. “If you need a meal, then we’re going to give it to you.”