We’ve all been there. When a loved one is fighting a life-threatening illness or in the aftermath of a death in the family or even when a friend (or a total stranger) is down on their luck, one of the most caring and helpful ways to respond or to be consoled is with food. When there are no words to provide comfort or logic to explain bad things happening to good people, food helps fill the elusive void. Sometimes the events are isolated to a family or a small community reluctantly facing adversity. Other challenges force larger factions and sometimes entire countries or hemispheres to cope with unfortunate and unforeseen consequences. Thankfully, the scope of the impact on people is typically exceeded by an outpouring of generosity from empathetic responders, many who directly or indirectly provide aid by donating food.

Nowadays, businesses of all types and sizes routinely commit massive amounts of resources to provide relief to those in need. But in my opinion, food companies have an advantage by being able to share a basic, but also the most profound form of aid and comfort, even during what is perhaps one of the most divisive and head-scratching crises to date (which has hopefully ended permanently by now).

Almost one month after the partial government shutdown began, and federal workers faced furloughs or working without pay, a full-page, open letter from The Kraft Heinz Co. was published in The Washington Post that shined a bright light on what is one of the country’s most vital cogs: the food industry. In its letter, Kraft announced it had opened a pop-up grocery store in Washington, D.C., the previous week where government ID-carrying federal workers were given a free bag of groceries for their families. Thousands of families benefitted in the days that followed. On Facebook, Kraft announced: “While we can’t do anything about the whole paycheck thing, we’ll do what we can to see that family dinners remain business as usual.” The letter stated that the company is committed to helping support families by providing food until the shutdown ends and challenged other companies to do the same. “We are now asking other national and local brands to join forces with us to support the more than 800,000 federal government workers impacted,” said the letter.

Tyson Foods Inc. did its part to help by announcing the donation of about 685,000 meals to organizations in the Washington, D.C., area to assist feeding the families of those affected. The company shipped several truckloads of chicken to the Capital Area Food Bank in coordination with the League of United Latin American Citizens as well as sending 14,000 lbs. of chicken to the D.C. Central Kitchen. The company also delivered chicken to the USO Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, which supports workers in the US Coast Guard.

Meanwhile, restaurants in communities all over the country have offered deep discounts or free meals to federal workers in the weeks following the shutdown. Since Jan. 3, Poor Richard’s Downtown, an independently owned restaurant in downtown Colorado Springs, Colorado, has been serving free meals to federal workers and their families for each week the shutdown continues.

Larger, national burger chains have also risen to the occasion. Columbus, Ohio-based White Castle announced it would provide federal workers a free combination meal at any of its 400 locations across the country; Potbelly Sandwich Shop offered federal workers BOGO sandwiches at its 400-plus restaurants; and many Subway franchisees offered a variety of discounts and free sandwiches.

There is a healing and coping process that accompanies eating a good meal during difficult times. Kudos to the food company leaders who put compassion ahead of dollars.