The COVID-19 crisis is unlike anything this country has seen in generations.
Take a walk down Main Street; any one will do. Traffic, both car and pedestrian has significantly dropped, restaurants and stores have shuttered and economic anxiety is now as much a part of the fabric of our daily lives as the small-town businesses we once supported.
Even for those whose lives were marginally secure, sparing a few bucks or a few hours of their free time required little thought. It was easy to remember that there were many people, far needier than they, who needed their support. But with news cycles consumed with climbing death totals and infection numbers, it can sometimes feel as if the most vulnerable among us have been pushed into the background.
Fortunately, many haven’t actually forgotten.
Full Circle Meals, a project to feed the community while also helping the local economy is growing each day. It’s a multi-pronged fundraising effort that brings restaurant-quality meals right to the doorstep of the most needy — and it’s simultaneously helping local businesses stay afloat during these difficult financial times. Over 1,000 meals have already been prepared and delivered, and many more will follow. The project is expected to be fully funded through at least May 15 on a budget of $56,000, said Steve Sego, one of the restaurant owners coordinating the effort.
Before uniting under one banner, there were several different local entities and efforts operating similar projects on a much smaller scale.
At the Port Orchard Rotary Club, members agreed to help provide meals to essential workers who were on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis. Within a few days, enough money was raised to provide hundreds of meals to the staff at Harrison Medical Center in Bremerton. The Dock Bar & Eatery and the Brick House Bar and Grill in Port Orchard, along with KettleFish in Silverdale agreed to create and deliver meals “at cost,” which helped keep the restaurant staff busy and employed.
Sego, owner of The Dock Bar & Eatery along with his wife Coreen Haydock, was heavily-involved in the Rotary’s effort and saw an opportunity to create something bigger and ran with it.
“It exploded to a whole new level,” Sego said.
While the Rotarians’ efforts were underway, Jack Hastings and his partners at the Axe & Arrow Gastropub in Bremerton had also begun operating a small project called Kitsap Front Line Meals, which donated meals to first responders and veterans. Hastings, a former Army Green Beret himself, was connected to a large network of veteran and first responder entities. It began simply with other retired Special Forces veterans who were able to call in and donate a meal and expanded from there.
“We’re two retired army green berets and a fire captain,” Hastings said. “We were really interested in giving back to the community.”
After a conversation between the two, Sego and Hastings joined forces and began bringing in other organizations that do similar work.
Feeding the community
The Arc of the Peninsulas was established in 1938 by a small group with a passion for helping the community, specifically those with developmental and intellectual disabilities.
A 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, the Arc serves Kitsap, Clallam, Jefferson and Mason counties and provide a wide array of services to about 1,500 individuals. Many of their members live at or below minimum wage and thus, rarely get the things that many of us take for granted, such as an evening out at a restaurant.
The Arc’s initial involvement began as 25 meals geared toward members of their Community Connections program. But that has surged to 110 meals a day, seven days a week. The deliveries help keep the staff at the Arc employed, but the payoff is in the reaction of recipients who get to enjoy their high-quality meals.
“They get a box of incredible food and they’re thrilled to the moon,” said Chris Tibbs, the Executive Director of the Arc of the Peninsulas.
The Arc has come to act essentially as the fiscal agent of Full Circle Meals as well, managing the collection and distribution of payments to restaurants. And their members are just one of the groups of people who benefit from the generosity of the donations of tens of thousands of dollars that have come pouring in.
Recently added to the list of recipients is the staff of Retsil Veterans Home in Port Orchard. Every shift — day, evening and night — has meals provided for them, much to their delight.
“Even though they’re all wearing face masks, you can still see the smiles beaming underneath them,” said Gary Lott, the community relations manager at Washington Department of Veterans Affairs.
Keeping the lights on
Ronda O’Sullivan, the owner of Ambrosia Catering had seen business come to a grinding halt, literally overnight. After all, a catering company’s bread and butter is large events — weddings, parties, company gatherings and many others. Once those were temporarily banned in Washington by Gov. Jay Inslee’s order, O’Sullivan was wondering how her company would survive.
Ambrosia still had some small orders from places such as medical offices, but it was not nearly enough to sustain the business.
O’Sullivan applied for money through the Federal CARES Act and Paycheck Protection Program, but her bank had run out of funds before getting to their application. As she wondered how she was going to make her situation work, she received a call from Sego asking her to take part in the Full Circle Meals project. With tears of joy and gratitude, she accepted. Other restaurants have become involved as well, including Peninsula BevCo, the 19th Hole and Sue’s Fresh Juice Bar and Sandwich Shop.
While the project itself won’t entirely save businesses, it has certainly had a positive effect. Hastings reported that he was able to rehire a few of his employees. While other restaurants may not yet be in that position, involvement in Full Circle Meals has helped keep the lights on.
For others, it has also restored a sense of normalcy. The restaurant business can be all-consuming, and once it’s gone, it can leave a rather large hole to fill.
Like many restaurateurs, Suanne Martin Smith, owner of Sue’s Home Made Cafe in Port Orchard, had to scramble to change her business just to survive. Home Made Cafe, which is more of a destination and dine-in restaurant, lost 85 to 90 percent of its business overnight. She and her family are only working about 18 hours per week as they shifted to preparing takeout food.
Getting involved in Full Circle Meals allowed her to get back to creating meals with love and care, busily preparing fresh muffins and fruit cups for breakfasts, sandwiches with fresh spinach and turkey, macaroni salad, and homemade chocolate chip cookies.
“It made us feel like life was normal for a moment.” Martin Smith said.
Indeed, the project has become a source of welcome relief and positivity for so many. Martin Smith said she received a letter from the staff at Retsil, thanking them for the food they had received, but the gratitude was reciprocated; a sentiment shared by everyone involved in Full Circle Meals.
“We’re so grateful to have this opportunity,” Martin Smith said.
— Those interested in receiving meals, those interested in supporting this project, or restaurants who would like to participate should contact firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can find them on Facebook at Full Circle Meals