Chef Millie Peartree has always felt at home in the kitchen.
“I cracked my first egg when I was seven and I’ve had an affinity for it and always wanted to do it,” said Peartree.
Peartree went on to become a world-renowned chef. Her restaurant Millie Peartree Fish Fry and Soul Food in the Bronx made a list of New York’s best restaurants last year, but then Con Edison shut off natural gas to the building because of a leak and unauthorized work on the line.
She had to close the restaurant and pivot to catering. When the pandemic brought that venture to a halt, she began cooking for essential workers, and then for children and families in need in the Bronx.
“I couldn’t sit home,” Peartree explained. “I did recover from COVID — I had it back in March — but there was nothing for me monetarily to do. I thought, ‘I’ll always have my skills; I’ll always have my talent, so why not help somebody else?’”
Now her non-profit Full Heart Full Bellies delivers meals to three housing authority complexes: the Mitchell, Patterson and Moore houses.
She partnered with Amazon, which provides kitchen space, and with Audi, which delivers the meals.
The Harlem-based charity Share For Life connected her to NYCHA. She also launched a GoFundMe page, which has raised more than $80,000 so far to fund the effort.
“It’s more or less doing what’s right. I always proceed on the side that you and I never know when we will need assistance so I proceed on the side that I want to make an impact, Peartree said. “If you eat better you feel better and you’re more productive.”
She has strong ties to the Bronx. In addition to having her restaurant there, it’s where she grew up.
“Communities that have embraced you, whether you had a business there, you live there, you want to always give back, help out — whether it is big or small,” Peartree said.
Since its start in July, Full Heart Full Bellies has donated more than 40,000 meals to families in the Bronx. Peartree says her goal is to eventually not only feed families in the city, but also across the country.
“This may be very small right now, but I have confidence that this will be something very huge,” Peartree said.
To donate visit the GoFundMe or text Full Bellies 877-877.