They won't be getting foie gras, but more than 20,000 good meals are on the way to the area's hungry with the official launch of the Charleston Chefs Feed the Need on Wednesday.

Hailing the "power of we," organizer Mickey Bakst said the effort is unprecedented and the most collaborative he had ever been involved in.

"I think out of Charleston this can grow into a national thing," he said to a hospitality industry and media gathering at the Riviera Theatre.

Beginning April 22, Charleston Grill at Charleston Place will take the first rotation among 52 restaurants, caterers, hoteliers and culinary schools participating in the initiative.

Each Wednesday thereafter, a new one will step up to donate its food and labor for 400 meals that will be served by one of four nonprofit agencies: Crisis Ministries, Tricounty Family Ministries, East Cooper Meals on Wheels and Neighborhood House.

Bakst said in addition to the number of chefs, "this is the first time all of these agencies have come together to work collectively" for such a program.

Sermet Aslan, chef-owner of Sermet's Corner on King Street, was among the ranks of white-jacketed chefs in the audience. Aslan said he immediately accepted when Bakst, general manager at Charleston Grill, asked him to join in.

"You got it," Aslan told Bakst. "Whatever the financial (responsibility) is, I'm ready."

Aslan said he is proud to be serving the community. "I'm someone capable of giving to someone not capable."

"I think it's wonderful," said Charlotte Jenkins, chef-owner of Gullah Cuisine in Mount Pleasant, another participating restaurant.

"Nobody in this room today said they can't," said Bakst, who conceived the idea after reading in January about Crisis Ministries closing its soup kitchen on Fridays because of the ailing economy.

Bakst said the area's soup kitchens and other food providers saw 36 percent increase in demand in 2008. It's risen an estimated 20 percent higher so far this year.

To help the public recognize participating restaurants, Bakst said he is having decals made for them to display in their windows.

Nathan Thurston, chef de cuisine at Ocean Room Prime on Kiawah Island, said although local chefs always have been tightly knit and supportive, the new effort is 'spectacular.'

'I think Charleston is unique in that they're coming together at the worst time for any business.'

FEED THE NEED

Participating restaurants, caterers, hoteliers and culinary schools are:

Art Institute of Charleston; Atlanticville; A.W. Shucks; Basil; Chai's; Bocci's; Bubba Gump

California Dreaming; Carolina's; The Boathouse; Caviar & Bananas

Charleston Grill; Charleston Place Events; Circa 1886; Cru Café

Culinary Institute of Charleston; Cypress; Duvall Catering; Embassy Suites North Charleston; Fat Hen; FIG; Fish; Fleet Landing; Fulton Five

Gilligan's Steamer and Raw Bar; Glass Onion; Gullah Cuisine

Halls Chophouse; Hank's Seafood; Il Cortile Del Re; Iverson Catering; Jasmine Porch at The Sanctuary on Kiawah Island; Jim 'N Nick's; JVC Catering

LongHorn Steakhouse; Trattoria Lucca; McCrady's; Med Bistro; Muse; Mustard Seed; Oak Steakhouse; Ocean Room Prime at The Sanctuary

82 Queen; Red's Ice House; Seel's Fish Camp; Sermet's Corner; Taco Boy; Tidewater Catering; Tristan; Vickery's; Wild Dunes Resort; and Woodlands Inn.