Restaurant Franchises Help Feed Frontline Workers
Medical workers pose with Chicken Salad Chick food donated from the community in Westerville, Ohio.
As many dine-in restaurants shut their doors by COVID-19 mandated orders, franchises still open are figuring out ways they can help others out, such as Dickey’s Barbecue Pit, which donated 100,000 free sandwiches to grocery store employees, first responders and medical workers in Arizona last week.
For Jen Crichfield, a Chicken Salad Chick franchisee in Westerville, Ohio, giving back to her community has always been a priority. Recently, she reached out to a couple friends who work in hospitals and asked if there was a way she could drop off some food donations for them. She shared the experience on social media, and suddenly others started messaging her and asking how they could participate.
Soon after, Crichfield’s neighborhood alone raised $880 to pay for Chicken Salad Chick meals to be donated to frontline workers such as nurses, doctors, EMTs and medical offices in the area. This sparked Crichfield’s Feeding the Front Lines initiative, which in three weeks has had an influx of donations from residents, local businesses and even Walmart.
They’ve partnered with employees from a local coworking space, who pick up 30 meals a day to deliver out to the community. They’ve also partnered with Ohio’s state highway patrol, which came in to pick up 30 meals to deliver to the local children’s hospital. Crichfield and her reduced staff of 15 to 20 employees have been producing and donating anywhere from 30 to 90 meals per day for the past three weeks, with nearly 600 donated meals total.
Crichfield has personally been delivering a lot of the donations. At hospitals around Westerville, no one can get in without an ID badge, and all the doors are gated.
“It’s an eerie feeling driving up to the hospital and seeing no one,” Crichfield said. “But what’s really cool is we’re bringing in something positive to make people smile." She added it's the least she can do for people who are "literally sacrificing" their lives for others.
Crichfield also thought it would be more meaningful if donors got to choose who received a meal if they had a personal connection to someone. Her neighbor’s sister is a night nurse at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, so Crichfield felt a strong urge to bring her a meal.
“They don’t always get the recognition they deserve. They work 12-hour shifts, and restaurants are only open for lunch and dinner,” Crichfield said.
So she and her husband made food one night and drove over to the medical center at 11:30 p.m. to deliver the meal.
“It’s so much more meaningful to do something for someone personally in our community,” Crichfield said.
A leader at Ohio State chose for her donation to go to the night maintenance team at the college, which is busy cleaning out dorms after students left for home because of COVID-19.
“If you can imagine a mass exodus after the U canceled class, I can’t even fathom what those rooms looked like after,” Crichfield said. “They’re not your typical frontline people…you could tell, maintenance people aren’t recognized always, so it’s really cool she got creative and thought of someone very deserving who work tirelessly.”
Other donors chose nursing and assisted living workers who are on lockdown in their communities, while other meals went to the local headquarters for MedFlight Emergency Air that transports patients between hospitals. Because Crichfield is utilizing digital apps such as Venmo and PayPal, no donator had to leave their house.
In addition to their Feeding the Front Lines initiative, Crichfield and her team are also going from neighborhood to neighborhood, providing pop-up drive-thrus where people can order online, then drive to a nearby parking lot where Crichfield has alphabetized everyone’s orders and bagged meals by family for them to pick up. They had so many orders this week they’ve rented a refrigerated truck to keep the food cold, along with toting Lysol spray and wipes to keep everything sanitary.
“This was just prompted by me staying up at night trying to figure things out and not being able to sleep,” Crichfield said. “This is my passion, this excites me.”
And as they’re making donations, doing pop-up drive-thrus and making neighborhood deliveries, Crichfield is scouting out where to open up her next Chicken Salad Chick store.
“I would honestly say, probably 50 percent of people who are ordering from our neighborhood drops have never ordered Chicken Salad Chick before,” Crichfield said. “When we open back up, I think that will help us a lot. We might have some lines at the door…and by delivering to people who wouldn’t come to my store normally, I’m finding out who loves us, which helps make my decision on where to buy real estate next.”
Delivering a Box of Thanks
Stephen Graves, franchisee of Apple Spice Box Lunch Catering in Charleston, South Carolina, started a program called Box of Thanks where companies, organizations and individuals can purchase a box lunch that gets donated to hospital workers, law enforcement officers, firefights and other first responders.
When a company buys a box lunch for a frontline worker, Graves and his wife print the company logo on the exterior of the box, pack the lunch, then lay a special message of gratitude from each company across the top before they close it up.
Churches, realtors and other small business owners have purchased box lunches to donate. Coca-Cola also pitched in 750 canned Cokes for them to pack with the lunches.
“This is putting us in touch with people who didn’t know we existed, who weren’t regular customers,” Graves said.
Since March 31 when Graves and his Apple Spice Box Lunch team started the Box of Thanks program, nearly 900 lunches have been donated to local frontline workers.
Apple Spice’s business model is mainly corporate catering and lunch delivery service to businesses. So naturally, with many business employees working from home and other offices simply closed, Graves has seen business drop as a whole. However, they’ve still had people who work in essential offices ordering five to eight lunches for their teams.
“At some point, we want to limit contact for safety. We’ve turned off some of the delivery and are mainly focused on this program and pickup,” Graves said. “You can still order online and pick it up, but how long is that going to go for?”
Despite mass uncertainty, Graves is moving forward with his Box of Thanks initiative.
“This is a unique opportunity that came up unfortunately in a tragic situation, that long term can still be something we continue to do forever,” Graves said. “When this is all over and done, we’re still going to have first responders’ programs. This is not a coronavirus one-and-done program…This will not go away moving forward.”