In 1992, Jenny Torgerson was a 20-year-old single mom working two jobs to support herself and her baby boy. She couldn’t afford childcare and depended on daycare assistance to keep her jobs.
She now owns Mad Greek, a Moscow restaurant offering free to-go pizza to children during school and business shutdowns meant to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.
“I relied on every penny I made to support myself and my son,” Torgerson said. “If I’d experienced this type of shutdown, there would’ve been dire consequences for me and my son. There is no way I could’ve paid rent, utilities, gas and groceries without my two jobs.”
When she heard the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommending families stock up on two weeks of food and essentials, she didn’t know how many families could afford it. She said some can’t afford two days worth.
The pizza or a cup of soup is being offered at Mad Greek from 2-4 p.m. Monday through Thursday for the next three weeks.
Torgerson is just one in a wave of local business owners working to counteract the economic ripple effects of the current pandemic.
Moscow comic book and game store Safari Pearl transformed into a pop-up food bank Friday when owners heard WSU would be shutting down. Owner Kathy Sprague said she expected public schools would come next. Now with some businesses debilitated on both sides of the border, there’s even more need.
“A lot of low wage workers are getting laid off right now and they need to eat,” Sprague said.
So, while on their way home from a trip, Safari Pearl owners posted on the store’s Facebook page that they could offer a box of cereal, a gallon of milk, bread or other foods to families concerned about school closures. They also invited customers to pitch in.
“By the time we got home that evening we had about 60 pounds of food already,” Sprague said. “We live in a great place.”
In Pullman, Dissmore’s IGA owners Archie and Shelley McGregor have waived all grocery delivery and pickup fees.
Store manager Stephanie Rodeen said they noticed fewer older community members shopping, and they wanted to make their goods available to everyone.
“The owners of this store live here, they’re super nice people and they’ve done a lot for the community,” Rodeen said. “We just want to help.”
Delaney Piper, a WSU graduate and co-owner of Hands and Hearts Farm in Moscow, has created and distributed her Palouse COVID-19 “Request Support” Form online.
“In the spirit of care for our beloved Palouse community, we are offering support for those impacted by illness, social distancing, loss of work, etc,” the form reads. “We believe we live in abundance as a community.”
Requesters can provide a grocery list, which Piper’s volunteers will shop for and deliver. They can also request someone pick up prescriptions on their behalf or sign up to get a “care-call” from people trained in compassionate listening ministry.
Piper can also offer $50 in financial support to some community members, while others can donate to support those in need. You can see the form, ask for help or provide it at bit.ly/3ba8VIl.
Even as they work tirelessly to help out, small businesses are facing their own hurdles. Rodeen said every local store takes a hit during summer months when students leave, and closures could extend that rough patch. But she’s not too concerned — many students she’s talked to plan on staying in Pullman.
Sprague worries for her business and employees. She doesn’t expect as many business restrictions in Idaho as in Washington, but Safari Pearl has canceled all in-store gaming.
She said she hopes the government will pitch in more.
White House officials and congressional Republicans are devising a stimulus package that would send two $1,000 checks to Americans under a certain income level and would provide loans for small businesses.
In the meantime, Sprague is working to add produce to their stockpile by Friday. She and Safari Pearl employees will make home deliveries themselves.
Torgerson hopes she can get help to make deliveries. She’s noticed some families don’t have a way to get to her restaurant for the meals she’s offering. She said while the school district provides lunches, her large pizza slices can help families get through dinner.
“I’ll keep making and bagging the pizza if someone can grab and deliver,” she said.
Thus far, Mad Greek and Safari Pearl both have more food than people coming in to grab it. But Sprague expects more people will stop by in a couple of weeks when they don’t see their normal paycheck.
“Don’t be shy about coming and getting some food,” Sprague said.