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From Wheels Up To Meals Up

How one private aviation company is lending a hand during this pandemic and encouraging others to join their movement

Wheels Up founder and CEO Kenny Dichter has joined forces with friend and partner, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, on a new initiative in partnership with Feeding America. Aptly named Meals Up, the partnership is committed to supplying millions of meals to those in need during the COVID-19 crisis. Through Feeding America’s vast network of food banks across the country, these meals will feed those who were already food insecure or currently in need due to lost wages or difficulty accessing food. The organization, which was founded in 1979, donates over four billion meals each year to over 60,000 soup kitchens, pantries, and churches across the country. By leveraging the Wheels Up network of friends, members, investors, and ambassadors, Wilson and Dichter are doing their part to inspire those with the means to do so.

We talked to Wheels Up’s founder and CEO Kenny Dichter about how he’s pitching in and staying sane during these uncertain times.

How did you and Russell Wilson first meet? How long have you been friends and partners?

I met Russell 10 years ago at the University of Wisconsin. Barry Alvarez, Wisconsin’s athletic director, made the introduction. I graduated from Wisconsin in 1990, and my wife Shoshana graduated in 1992—we are lifelong Badgers. Russell and I have been in touch, almost daily, since the first day we met.

Feeding America volunteers

How can Wheels Up rise to the challenge we’re all facing in the world right now?

Wheels Up warmly embraces charity. Our Wheels Up Cares program supports breast and ovarian cancer awareness, heart health, and military families. With the power and passion of our Wheels Up network of over 8,000 members, investors and ambassadors; we created a new initiative called Meals Up to inspire everyone to do their part because we all have a responsibility to do our part for the greater good.

How did you decide to partner with Feeding America for this initiative? 

I was inspired by my friends and partners Russell Wilson and Ciara for their recent donation of one million meals through Feeding America to the food banks in Seattle—and JJ Watt for his recent work with Feeding America and past experience with the organization during the Hurricane Harvey crisis in Houston.

What makes the organization so great?

Feeding America is one of the most effective organizations at getting food into the hands of people who need it most—they’ve been around for over 40 years and serve over four billion meals each year through food banks across the country.

Who of your brand ambassadors are getting involved?

We’re already working with our Wheels Up ambassadors Tom Brady and Gisele Bündchen, Serena Williams, Alex Rodriguez and Jennifer Lopez as well as my good friends and partners Tim Armstrong, Joe Poulin and my lead Wheels Up director David Adelman who are supporting and helping us mobilize our Wheels Up network.

Russell Wilson and Kenny Dichter

What’s your fundraising goal?

I’m happy to report that we will hit our goal of 10 million meals by the end of this week—and Russell and I are already talking about our future plans and new targets.

Where are you holed up during this shelter-in-place scenario? 

I’m sheltering in place in Purchase, New York. I’m here with my wife, Shoshana, and my three daughters Chloe, Harley, and Phoebe.

What does your day look like?

I’m on conference calls and Zoom meetings most of the day, while watching CNBC.

How are you staying active?

I take 75 to 90 minutes every day to move around–through a mix of biking, lifting and walking–which is great for the mind and body.

What’s atop your to-do list once this is all over?

At the top of my to-do list when the crisis breaks is to take my oldest daughter, Chloe, back to Wisconsin where she’ll be a sophomore this fall. Then, I’m going to fly on a Wheels Up King Air 350i to visit all of our Wheels Up outposts (Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, California, Indiana, Florida, Georgia, Washington State, and Connecticut).

What are you looking forward to doing again?

I’m looking forward to traveling with my family.