FRANKLIN COUNTY, Va. – Brown paper bags line kitchen counters at the Early Inn at The Grove in Rocky Mount. Wednesday morning, co-owner Bryan Hochstein and his employees filled them with sandwiches and snacks.
Hochstein also runs Rocky Mount Burger Company. When he heard schools were shutting down because of the coronavirus, he didn’t want kids in the community to go hungry.
"The first thing that hit us was, ‘What are the kids going to do?’” Hochstein said.
That’s when the Brown Bag Lunch Program was born.
The restaurant already had the bread and lunch meat, but the question became: How do they get the food to families in need?
“Making the sandwiches and the lunch bags wasn’t the hard part,” Hochstein said. "Getting them delivered to those in need was really the big challenge.”
That’s where the nonprofit STEP, Solutions That Empower People, stepped in to help deliver the meals. The organization serves 227 clients, including home-bound seniors, at-risk and low-income children throughout Franklin County.
“All of our kids are certified for free and reduced lunches, so we really are a safety net," said Marc Crouse, STEP’s executive director.
Originally, Hochstein pledged to make about 100 meals in two weeks. However, thanks to tremendous community support, they’ve already made nearly 1,000 meals in just one month because of locals and businesses who donated nearly $2,800 to keep the program running.
Wednesday’s donor was Peters Automotive Service. Co-owner Jamie Peters said her family feels blessed to still have jobs, so they wanted to do whatever they could to help out.
“We felt that was just a small way we could give back during these times," Peters said.
The brown bag lunches are supplemental. Franklin County Public Schools and Meals on Wheels still provide food to needy families. However, there is a growing food shortage nationwide during the COVID-19 outbreak and Hochstein and the donors want to make sure their neighbors can still fill their plates.
“If they were not getting these meals, I really don’t think there would be a lot of them that would be eating," Peters said.
“People are very generous,” said Hochstein. "You really start to see the character of individuals in times of crisis.”
Each lunch costs about $3. Every Monday through Wednesday, they deliver 48 meals. On Thursdays, they deliver 96 meals since STEP is closed on Fridays. On Mondays, families who receive services through STEP are able to pick up meals at the office, located at 200 Dent Street in Rocky Mount.
Hochstein and his employees plan to keep making meals as long as they can, but said they need donations to keep the program running.
Anyone who would like to donate can email firstname.lastname@example.org.