PEABODY — Call it serendipity: Restaurant workers who lost jobs when coronavirus shuttered their workplaces found new employment with a local food pantry desperate for help.
Citizens Inn Haven from Hunger has seen visits to its Wallis Street location from people seeking food quadruple since coronavirus hit in mid-March.
That was when restaurant workers like Burtons Grill and Bar bartender Kim Mello were furloughed after social distancing restrictions were imposed, shutting down restaurant dining rooms.
Burtons maintained its takeout business until the Northshore Mall closed. Mello credited her general manager at Burtons and Citizens Inn Executive Director Corey Jackson with communicating by Facebook to get the restaurant workers hired.
Citizens Inn relies on volunteers to unload food delivered in bulk to the pantry and then prepare it for distribution to clients. Coronavirus’ onset prompted the mostly-older volunteers to opt for staying at home to guard against contracting the virus.
The decline in volunteer participation hit at the same time widespread unemployment in late March and early April sent requests for food skyrocketing.
“We had about a 400 percent increase,” said food pantry and meals program Program Director Kate Benashski.
Jackson said Peabody police officers and firefighters initially filled in the volunteer gaps to keep donated food moving off trucks and into boxes for distribution to clients.
“It was incredible. They really came through,” he said.
Facebook and other information resources linked unemployed workers like Mello to Citizens, in part because of food donation relationships already established between restaurants, including Burtons, and Citizens.
Benashski said 10 restaurant workers hired to work at Citizens Inn hit the ground running with experience in food handling and kitchen sanitation.
“They were ready to dig right in,” she said.
Mello, an Ipswich resident, said unloading trucks and toting boxes is physically demanding but rewarding work. She said the chance to work at Citizens Inn came just as she was starting to go “stir crazy” stuck at home.
She looks forward to returning to work at Burtons and she hopes to volunteer at Citizens Inn.
Jackson said Citizens Inn’s next challenge is to obtain enough meat to continue providing clients with a balanced food donation, including grains, fruits, produce, protein and dry goods. Partial or total meat distributor shutdowns across the nation due to coronavirus have disrupted meat supplies in some regions.