WASHINGTON — Mark Bucher has been working in the local restaurant industry since 2007 and he’s raised four kids in the District. He said among the many lessons he's taught them, most of all he tries to instill giving back in everything that they do.
While running the popular steakhouse Medium Rare, with locations in D.C., Maryland and Virginia, he’s put that attitude to good use.
The restaurant has been a beacon of hope in the community, doing everything from packing free lunches for students through his Feed the Fridge program, bringing local moms free meals on Mother's Day and doing the same for quarantined elderly and the immunocompromised throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the holiday season, Medium Rare is known for frying turkeys for free for those who need it on Thanksgiving day and delivering high-quality meals to the elderly facing the holiday alone.
This year, he’s doing it all over again, helping the community in a way that’s desperately needed as the pandemic hits record heights and grim milestones.
"We've all heard the strong recommendations that families should not gather for the holiday and that you should keep your grandparents away from the kids," Bucher said. "But how many Thanksgivings do they possibly have left - and they have to not spend this one with their family? Which might be their last one? I had to do something that gets them closer to their families for what may possibly be one of their last Thanksgivings."
Already, the requests for free meals for elderly loved ones facing a holiday alone have been flooding in, with 2,000 requests and growing that Bucher describes as "wrenching."
"We realized very quickly that society has underestimated the disaster in the elderly community right now - and it is a disaster," he explained. "These folks, for the most part, are literally scared to death to go outside. They're not eating. . . They are starving, and they're lacking basic household necessities. Their caregivers aren't coming in. And it's unbelievable."
But even with a record number of requests this year, his staff at Medium Rare isn’t one to give up on a challenge.
"I said 'What do we want to do?' because [our staff] has to give up their thanksgiving to do it. And one of my managers, she said, 'You know, Mark, we've got a duty to do this. Now, people are depending on us to do this.'"
This year, Medium Rare will partner with the Washington Nationals to fry the turkeys of anyone who needs it for the first time at Nationals Park from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Anyone who is interested in having their turkey fried can drop it off, park for 25 minutes and pick it up after it's done.
"There are lots of great programs that give away free food at Thanksgiving. You see a lot of free turkey giveaways. But a lot of these folks don't have the ability to cook them," he explained of the free turkey fry inspiration.
Although Bucher takes pride in helping his community, he explained how disheartening it is that people who need it most are struggling to get these basic necessities.
"The social service agencies need to do better. It's been seven months, they should have figured this out. If I could figure this out in three weeks, they should have figured this out in seven months. And there's no excuse."
Bucher said that his one wish for what will come of his team’s efforts is that restaurants across the country will attempt to copy his efforts of giving back to the community and helping the food insecure with high-quality, dignified meals.
Although the restaurant is struggling, just as all are in the pandemic, he said that cutting costs, the generosity of the community and loyal customers have kept them afloat.
"We are blessed to have very loyal and caring customers that have come to us and said 'How can we help?' So they've been ordering as often as they can. They're buying gift cards for their friends. They're making sure our staff is okay. And we're surviving with our nose above the waterline to get through this now."
Anyone interested in supporting Medium Rare's efforts to help the food insecure can donate to their GoFundMe page.
If you are looking to get a free Thanksgiving meal for a loved one over the age of 70 in the D.C. metro area, email the restaurant with the senior's name, address and cell phone number at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Those interested in volunteering to help deliver meals can also email the address to sign-up.