Grilled chicken, mac and cheese and green beans.
That’s what was being handed out on Monday to laid-off service industry workers, more than 100 meals in total, passed by gloved hands through car windows, free of charge.
It won’t pay the rent, nor will it solve the greater problems laid-off workers are now facing, as restrictions on restaurants continue during the coronavirus pandemic.
“But it’s an important sentiment,” said Chase Orsini-Liberatore, a laid-off bartender formerly of Bacon Bros. who stopped by to pick up a free meal. “The heart and the care it symbolizes is worth way more than the meal itself.”
Monday’s free meal giveaway is just the first of hopefully many to come. The meal giveaway was spurred on by the Brown-Forman beverage company, with assistance from Performance Food Group and Stone Pin Bowling Alley. Event organizer Ruthie Smith said they aim to keep putting together meal giveaways as many times as they can, ideally twice a week. They hope to keep going for as long as they can, so long as they can get enough sponsors on board.
Another hundred or so meals will be available for drive-through pickup between 3 and 5 p.m. on Thursday at the Stone Pin Bowling Alley’s parking lot, at 304 E. Stone Ave. Any restaurant worker who was laid off due to the coronavirus outbreak is encouraged to stop by for the meal giveaway. Up to four meals are available for each family, although Smith said exceptions can be made for those in particular need.
“We’re not going to turn you away,” Smith said.
How to get a free meal
Anyone who wants to pick up a meal needs to sign up first by heading over to Stone Pin’s website, or by clicking here. Sign-ups begin Wednesday, so check back at that time.
The sign-ups are strictly confidential and are only so the event organizers can know how many meals to prepare.
Once you’ve signed up, stop by between 3 and 5 p.m. on Thursday, and you can pull your car up to the tent, where someone will hand the carefully sanitized meal container directly through your car window.
Workers helping workers
The event is just one example of industry workers pulling together to lift up one another in dark times.
At the Stone Pin parking lot giveaway, almost all of the people cooking and handing out the meals were laid-off workers themselves.
“It’s so humbling to see folks that don’t have a job call me and ask what they can do to help,” Smith said. “They’re picking up other folks who might not have the money for gas to come and volunteer; they’re calling one another and checking up to see that things are okay.”
Smith said it’s indicative of a service industry culture in Greenville that is unique compared to other cities.
“I feel like the people in the service industry here have the biggest hearts in the world,” Smith said. “Especially in Greenville, the service industry is a very close group. It’s a huge family that takes care of each other.”
Orsini-Liberatore agreed. “This city is driven by our culinary scene, so if we want to protect the future of this city, we need to support each other right now.”
Out in the parking lot, as rain drizzled from a sky dense with gray storm clouds, Michael Shore was one of the volunteers who’d shown up to distribute the meals. It’s not the type of work Shore is used to. As the assistant manager of Liberty Tap Room, he doesn’t typically find himself standing out in the rain in a parking lot. But Liberty Tap Room is one of many restaurants that has closed its doors amid the pandemic, and Shore said he just wanted to give back to the people who work so hard for him and for Greenville.
“The service industry made Greenville what it is, period. It made downtown,” Shore said. “We had a bartender who’s worked for us for 12 years. She built that bar. And she’s one of so many people who are hurting.”
Back in the kitchen at Stone Pin, chefs Sunny and Jake were hard at work preparing the meals. They were getting paid for their time here, something they know most people can’t say for themselves.
The otherwise empty kitchen drove that point home. Most of the employees had to be let go, and while management was trying to give more of its employees opportunities to get paid for volunteer work like this, the dark and empty lanes at the bowling alley meant that there was no way they could make it work for everyone.
“A lot of people live paycheck to paycheck,” said Stacey Wingate, operations manager with Stone Pin. “We realize it’s really a struggle. This is a small token we can do. And the whole thing is, if we can get more people behind it, more sponsorship, more help, we can expand this as much as possible.”
Still, Wingate admitted, “It’s not going to pay the bills for them. But we just wanted them to know, we haven’t forgotten you.”