Because Calhoun Cares, a grassroots organization made up of locally-owned restaurants and catering companies, has provided more than 600 free meals to healthcare workers and more than 200 free meals to at-risk seniors in the community since the coronavirus pandemic swept into Calhoun.

King Street Market co-founder Denise Stripling said the idea of providing meals to these two community groups most affected by the pandemic came to her after she saw how businesses in other towns were coming together to support their communities. She thought doing something similar in Calhoun would not only provide much needed aid, but would also keep the local food service industry alive in the midst of economic uncertainty.

“I knew all the small cafes and businesses and caterers in town were going to be hurt by this,” she said. “I didn’t want us to sit on our hands and watch everything we worked for fade away. I realized this was something we could do that would help people and keep us working.”

Stripling reached out to fellow restaurants and catering companies in the community and said they immediately agreed to get involved. No one she asked said they couldn’t help out or weren’t interested and none of them, she said, wanted to do it simply for the business benefit. It was about nourishing the community.

Now the group consists of King Street Market, Calhoun Coffee Company, Christian & Jakes Bistro, Simply Southern Restaurant, Thurston’s Café and Wall Street Catering.

“If you’re a person who works in food, you care about people. You feed people because you care about them and you love them, it’s just the kind of person you are,” she said. “Those are the kind of people I’m working with on this. They really care about this community.”

She also reached out to Mollie Surratt from White Label Studio for help with the marketing effort. Stripling said Mollie immediately agreed to not only help with the website but to handle all the marketing for what Because Calhoun Cares is calling its “Food Chain Project,” an effort to fundraise, create nutritious and delicious meals and deliver them to vulnerable locals free of charge.

Surratt had a logo, website, social media sites, a GoFundMe and a text-to-give line up and going within three days.

Since March 27, more than $7,000 has been raised through that GoFundMe page. The money raised there goes directly toward paying for food costs and the costs of preparing the food. Employees at Because Calhoun Cares restaurants and catering services are being paid their usual wage, which Stripling said was important to her.

“This is an uncertain time for everyone, and by providing that wage we can make sure the people who work at these businesses keep their jobs,” she said. “We want this to be something we are able to provide for free for the people who need it, and we want it to help workers too.”

The meals are cooked and packaged by the restaurants and catering companies, then delivered to King Street Market where they are labeled with Because Calhoun Cares logos and the logos of the organization’s business sponsors. They are then delivered out into the community.

Stripling said while those delivering the packages are careful to follow social distancing guidelines to keep the at-risk community members they are delivering meals to safe, they have been able to get feedback from some of the seniors they work with in the form of notes.

One note received on Wednesday thanked them for their work. Another said: “Hello, and thank you all so much for your generosity and kindness for residents in Calhoun. I appreciate you more than I can say. You are truly a blessing in this time of gloom.”

“It means a lot for us to see that,” Stripling said. “We have seniors who wait at their windows and wave to us and talk to us through the window while we are leaving their food. I think a lot of them are lonely right now, so this helps them in a lot of different ways.”

Because Calhoun Cares meals are prepared for breakfast, lunch and dinner and can be enjoyed cold or microwaved so that they can be eaten any time. Stripling said King Street Market has been managing the labeling and delivery of all meals to ensure they meet the necessary health requirements to be reheated. They are also labeled with best-by-dates so they can be saved, rather than thrown out, if a person has leftovers.

Desiree Stripling, Denise’s daughter, has spent more than 50 hours a week cooking meals and overseeing the labeling and delivery process.

Asked how the community can get involved with the project, Stripling said they are always looking for donations.

“Because the meals are provided free of charge, donations are necessary to getting the food to the doorsteps of those in need,” she said. “That’s why this really is a community effort. It isn’t just the restaurants coming together. It’s everyone.”

Donations may be mailed to Because Calhoun Cares at 212 King Street N. in Calhoun, submitted via GoFundMe, or dropped off to any First Bank drive-thru location throughout Calhoun. Checks should be made out to Because Calhoun Cares. It is also possible to donate by texting “give” to 844-335-4391.

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