MONROE CITY, Mo. | In an instant, the Subway franchise that brothers Alex and Chris Griffin had been building since March 28, 2019, cratered thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.
By the time Missouri Gov. Mike Parson issued an order for restaurants to stop serving in-person meals, and urging gatherings of no more than 10 people, business had dropped by 90%, forcing them to furlough nine part-time employees.
“I don't think there has ever been anything harder to do,” Alex said. “They did nothing wrong. It just feels so bad.”
As they looked at inventory, Alex and Chris did not want to see food go to waste, plus they did not want to see their business close. They knew that the Monroe City RI School District was working to ensure that students receive meals during the shutdown of classes, so they reached out to see if they could help.
The meals are being distributed through the United Methodist Church of Monroe City. The brothers hatched a plan to offer evening meals to students through the church. Chris placed an appeal on Facebook for donations to help feed children with a modest goal of $400. By Thursday, more than $2,000 had been donated and people keep responding.
“We're raising money to cover our costs,” Chris said.
They delivered 150 sandwiches the first night of the outreach, and 100 on the second night. They are now on target to deliver 100 sandwiches twice a week.
The Rev. Olivia Earlywine, pastor of the Methodist Church, said the meals are a huge boost for the community. Although the meals are prepared primarily for students who receive reduced charge or free meals, there is “no proof of needs” required when families come to the church in the evening, as it is “sort of an honor system.” Volunteers also are delivering meals to children who live a long distance from Monroe City in Hunnewell,
“The good is always there. We see it more clearly when there is a crisis,” she said.
The fight to prevent the spread of COVID-19 continues to impact the fabric of everyday life in Northeast Missouri in both obvious and subtle ways. Prenger Foods in Paris has suspended a long-standing tradition of taking grocery bags to customer cars, unless requested.
About a half-mile east from the Monroe City Subway, on U.S. Business 36 at C&R Market, managers have placed black tape on the floor at registers, called the “Social Distancing Area.”
Signs read: “Second Customer in Line: Please wait behind this line.”
At Casey's in Monroe City and New London, a signed on the door reads, “Limit 10 people in store.” At Abel's Shell Station in Paris, clerks are telling customers of the 10-person limit.
And, as retailers are finding around the nation, there are significant shortages. Many grocers have bare bins in produce areas, and empty shelves that only weeks ago were packed with dozens of eggs. And in the meat department of most stores, ground beef is scarce.
“It is nerve-wracking at times not to have what our customers want,” said Brett Shively, an assistant manager who has worked at C&R Market since 2008. “This just is not something that you expect.”
Another change for all retailers is consistent cleaning with disinfectants. Cash Caldwell, a C&R cashier, says he spends most of his time wiping down shelves with cleaning materials.
“I go up front to help when I am needed but the rest of time, I am cleaning,” he said.
Meanwhile, in addition to providing free meals, the Griffin brothers, as so many other restaurants in the area, are trying to make some sales with to-go orders at their formerly dormant takeout window. They are open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day, and ask that customers order in advance, with a preference for the Subway smart phone app.
“The app gives us a 15-minute lead time for orders to be made, but right now we advise people to come sooner because of business slowing way down and so their food will still be hot and fresh,” he said.
As he reflects on the loss of business, Chris said the Griffin brothers believe they will weather the circumstances and recover.
“We would also like to thank our generous community and thank our customers for the support over this past year, and during this difficult time. He said. “We will survive, and we will be better than ever when everything is back to a more normal schedule.”
He ended his interview with a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”
UPDATED TO CORRECT NUMBER OF MEALS PROVIDED AND THE FREQUENCY OF THE DONATIONS.