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Janelle Monáe fights COVID-19 food insecurity with #WondaLunch

The actress, singer, and activist is creating jobs and addressing hunger amid the pandemic with her free lunch initiative.

Janelle Monáe fights COVID-19 food insecurity with #WondaLunch
[Photo: courtesy of the subject]
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Janelle Monáe is processing the pandemic like the rest of us.

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“Most days when I wake up, I definitely don’t know what time it is, don’t know what day it is,” she says. “I feel as though I’m in an alternate-universe science-fiction film that I just want to end.”

But she also recognizes how her circumstances are largely different than the vast amount of people who have been affected by the virus in one way or the other.

“We’re in this together, but my situation is not the same as a single black mom with five kids who just got laid off,” Monáe says.

Since the pandemic, there’s been an outpouring of relief efforts from celebrities, and Monáe is adding her influence to the mix with #WondaLunch.

In partnership with hunger nonprofit Project Isaiah, Monáe will be handing out free lunches this Friday in Inglewood, California, alongside rapper and actor Jidenna, attorney and political commentator Angela Rye, and congresswoman Maxine Waters.

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#WondaLunch started in Atlanta, where Monáe’s arts collective and label Wondaland is based, back in April. The idea came to her when a friend who was working with Project Isaiah came to her with a dilemma: 500 employees at airport catering service Gate Gourmet were going to be out of work due the pandemic’s impact on travel. Monáe spun the problem into a solution, saving jobs by hiring Gate Gourmet to make 5,000 lunches while combating the very real issue of food insecurity.

“Some people who are working may want to save their money because they don’t know when they may be laid off,” Monáe says. “This is an opportunity to give back to the community, to feed families, to hopefully release some stress.”

[Photo: courtesy of DeShawn Hyacinthe (@hyacinthe_x & @xtheworld)]
For #WondaLunch’s Inglewood run, Monáe is partnering with Gate Gourmet again and says they’re aiming to double what they did in Atlanta, with 10,000 lunches. Whatever they don’t give away to people who have registered for the event, they’ll donate to homeless shelters.

Monáe and her Wondaland team have been exploring other ways to give back during the pandemic, including education initiatives to help parents keep their kids engaged while teaching them at home. But #WondaLunch has been Monáe’s main focus—even taking precedence over her creative endeavors.

Even though season two of Homecoming had to have its debut in self-isolation and the release of her highly anticipated thriller Antebellum got pushed to the fall, Monáe’s acting projects were largely complete before the pandemic. On the other hand, creating new music to follow up her 2018 Grammy-nominated album Dirty Computer has been a struggle.

“I haven’t really been focused on music in the way that I would, because music is so deeply rooted in my reality pre-corona. Right now I’m just trying to make sense of this new reality,” Monáe says. “I’ve really been rooted in community service and how I can turn all of my anger that I’m feeling with this administration into something positive. I strongly think it’s going to be the people who save the people. We can’t depend on people at the top to do it for us. It’s going to have to be groundwork that happens.”

About the author

KC covers entertainment and pop culture for Fast Company. Previously, KC was part of the Emmy Award-winning team at "Good Morning America," where he was the social media producer.

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