GLEN ROCK, NJ – Restaurants across New Jersey are among the hardest hit industries by the COVID-19 pandemic, but that’s not stopping a local pizzeria from helping those who are struggling.
Francesca Brick Oven Pizza & Pasta recently began offering gift certificates for a free family meal to anyone facing food insecurity.
In a message announcing the effort, owner Salvatore Reina wrote, “I know as a small pizzeria, we can’t change the world, but that doesn’t mean we can’t help. It’s been about eight months now since the pandemic has started. So many jobs, businesses, lives and much more have been affected in so many ways.”
“If you or anyone you know has any problems getting food on their table at night for themselves or their families, please let me know. We can help with that,” said Reina. “Don’t be embarrassed or anything.”
To connect with the pizzeria, email email@example.com. Then, Reina will collect your address and send gift certificates for family meals, which includes pizza, pasta, salad and bread.
“We will do our best to get food on those tables that need it,” Reina said. “Don’t hesitate. Send that email. It can be discreet, and all of these emails go directly to me.”
“It’s been really sort of sad and eye-opening,” Reina said. “Hearing some people’s situations or stories in the emails and how just getting food on the table is a struggle.”
Reina said he makes it a point to let those who reach out know there’s no limit on how many gift certificates they can receive.
“Once they use them, if they need anymore, I tell them don’t hesitate to ask and I will send more. So, they can use it as they like and when they like,” he said.
The offering comes amid reports that food pantries and meal distribution sites across New Jersey are struggling to keep up with demand.
Statewide, the Community Food Bank of New Jersey has seen record-breaking numbers between March and August, distributing enough food for about 40 million meals.
According to findings from the Bergen County Food Security Task Force, the 80+ emergency food providers across the county have experienced a 50% increase in clients since March. Some locations are now handling an increase of more than 200%, the county said.
Prior to the onset of the pandemic, at least one in 14 Bergen County residents were experiencing food insecurity. Now, in a single week, more than 20,000 people in Bergen County rely on donated food, according to the county.
Job loss and other financial issues stemming from the pandemic could push the local rate of food insecurity even higher by year’s end, according to Feeding America’s “Map the Meal Gap” study.
After seeing stories of other eateries offering meals to those in need, Reina was inspired to try it out at his restaurants.
“I just threw it out there and said to myself ‘Whether it ends up being one meal or 100 meals, we would be proud and glad to do it,’” Reina said.
“Food is what I do so hearing people don’t even have food on their tables really saddens me. As I mentioned we are just one small or now three small pizza shops but that doesn’t mean we can’t help a little bit,” he said.
He added, “I feel like it is only right. We are one of the lucky businesses to have not had to close, have not had to lay off or cut anyone’s hours and I want to show my gratitude to my community by doing the best we can outside of just selling pizza.”
Earlier this year, Reina was presented with a Hometown Hero award, which is an annual recognition given out by Rep. Josh Gottheimer to citizens who give back to their community.
Reina, who has owned Francesca’s for over a decade, opened a third location in Fair Lawn this summer. Despite having to shutter his dining rooms, Reina was busy, filling orders for take-out and curbside pick-up.
Grateful to be able to stay in business, Reina was inspired to do what he could to support other stores that could not open their doors due to New Jersey’s restrictions under the shelter-in-place order.
Part of that effort included sharing menus and offerings from other local eateries on his social media pages. Reina also purchased gift certificates from them to help ease the loss of revenue and then raffled them off on his Facebook page, raising $13,000.
He then used the proceeds to purchase personal protective equipment for healthcare workers at nearby hospitals, an effort that resulted in the donation of over 250,000 pairs of gloves.