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How Restaurants Are Supporting Their Communities During COVID-19

Caroline PriceAuthor

All over the country, communities are rallying around restaurants that have been hard hit by Coronavirus. People who love their local restaurants are stepping in to help them: advocating for rent freezes and government support of independent businesses and laid-off employees, donating money, and buying gift cards in droves. 

Even through these turbulent times, restaurant operators are showing up for their communities with the same care and hospitality they’ve always provided their guests.

In case you needed some uplifting news right now — or you wanted to know where you can step in to help as well — here are a few ways restaurants are coping with chaos and bringing some much-needed joy to their communities. 

1. Giving Back to Healthcare Workers

Healthcare workers are under immense strain during this crisis, and many restaurants are doing what they can to make sure they’re at least eating some nourishing, non-cafeteria food between shifts. 

Sweetgreen is providing free Sweetgreen outposts to hospitals in the cities where they have stores. “We’re so grateful for the hospital workers + medical personnel who are putting others before themselves during this critical time,” Sweetgreen wrote in an email to their customers. Outposts will be installed free of charge, and they’ll be filled with free salads and bowls for healthcare workers. 

Honeygrow is doing a buy one, get one free deal on their customizable bowls for all healthcare workers. 

But you don’t have to be a national chain restaurant to support your local healthcare workers. 

Juicy Platters, a Middle Eastern and Mediterranean restaurant in New Jersey, is giving a free meal to any healthcare worker who claims their free meal on the “Healthcare Superhero” page on their website. Founder Jaffar Wahdat decided to do this because his sister works in an emergency room and knows what the medical field is going through right now.

Farmer’s Table, in Little Italy of San Diego, CA is giving first responders and healthcare workers free food, either in individual portions, or family style for them to bring home. 

Patriot Tavern in Walpole, Massachusetts is giving free burgers to any healthcare worker and first responder in their local community on Saturday, March 21st from 12-4pm. 

Shy Bird has partnered with Mass. General Hospital to launch a program that provides hot meals to frontline health workers. Customers can purchase a meal, or a few meals, directly through their online ordering website. This not only feeds medical workers but also helps keep Shy Bird's doors open. 

2. Giving Back to Families in Need

Mamajuana Cafe in the Bronx is offering free lunch and dinner for schoolchildren while NYC schools are closed. “As a community, we want to help relieve one stress during these difficult times,” wrote the restaurant. “We do not want any child in our community to miss a meal.” 

Chef Jose Andrés announced that eight of his New York City and Washington D.C. locations would be turned into makeshift soup kitchens, serving take out meals for a suggested $7, but “those who cannot afford to pay, we will welcome as well,” he said. All of his employees will also be getting two weeks paid time off.

Many other restaurants nationwide are offering free lunches to school children affected by school closures. In Minnesota, Dunn Brothers Coffee in St. Michael, Jersey Mike's Subs in St. Cloud, and Umi Sushi and Hibachi in Blaine are all helping kids get the food they need for free. (See the full list of participating Minnesota restaurants here.) 

Saddleback Barbeque in Okemos, Michigan, is offering 50% off children's meals, as well as allowing restaurant patrons to donate a Saddleback kid's meal to a child in need.

Many restaurants in Pennsylvania are also offering free lunches for kids, and the same is true in North Carolina. "We hope this can help our community and reduce any struggles of replacing a school meal," the owners of Old Europe in Asheville, North Carolina, wrote on their Facebook page. 

Trina’s Starlite Lounge in Somerville, Massachusetts, used all the food they had left in the walk-in to prepare food to give away to those in need on their last day open, March 16th. 

3. Helping Employees Get Back on Their Feet 

Trina’s Starlite Lounge also set up a Venmo account to accept donations that will get passed along to their line cooks, prep cooks, dishwashers, hosts, servers, and bartenders. “We’ll see you on the other side of this! #TSLlovesyou” the lounge wrote on its Facebook page.

The Union Square Hospitality Group in NYC has created a relief fund for team members acutely affected by the public health crisis, after the group had to lay off 2000 of its employees. CEO Danny Meyer announced that he’s seeding the effort by contributing his entire compensation. Meyer also announced that the Union Square executive team is taking a meaningful pay cut. Additionally, 100% of all gift card sales through at least March 24th will go to the fund. 

The Tartine Union set up the Tartine Union Hardship Fund to help its workers pay their bills during the virus-related slowdowns. “We intend to use this fund to help our coworkers dealing with specific hardships due to virus-related slowdowns,” explains the description of the Hardship Fund. “This 200k goal could sustain 200+ co-workers for two weeks. It’s not much but we are trying the best we can.”

4. Supporting Other Local Businesses 

D.C.’s Hook Hall has a number of efforts to reduce stress and anxiety for hospitality industry workers through its Hook Hall Helps initiative. The effort includes a relief fund for hospitality workers as well as “Care Kits” that include shelf-stable foods and paper goods, such as peanut butter, toilet paper, packaged soup, granola bars, trail mix, cereals, coffee/tea, and chocolate. “Creature comforts during this time are crucial – and chocolate always helps!”  wrote the organizers of Hook Hall Helps. 

Kalaya, a Thai restaurant in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is offering free family meals from 3-5pm every day to anyone in the hospitality industry who needs it. They’re making the food from food donated from other restaurants, and they’re also distributing free produce collected from restaurants across the city. 

5. Spreading Positivity

Food is ultimately about connecting. City by city, we’ve lost the ability to share a plate of food with a loved one, except over Skype or FaceTime. So since we’re all in need of a morale boost, the owners of Block 16 in Omaha, Nebraska have continued to share food updates and to-go options served with a side of humor for its community.

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