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Senior meal delivery service helps Cleveland-area catering business rebound from COVID-19 setbacks

Posted at 7:39 AM, Sep 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-01 11:25:12-04

OAKWOOD VILLAGE, Ohio — One thousand—that’s how many hot, fresh meals are being delivered to seniors daily in East Cleveland through a partnership between local restaurant, Black Box Fix, and the Western Reserve Area Agency on Aging.

The program isn’t just helping seniors, it's also helping a small business owner and her employees rebound.

Chef Tiwanna Scott-Williams is happy to be busy in the kitchen once again. Because of the pandemic, sales at her business - Pearl Flower Catering - have been down 80%.

“We had tons of events that were wiped off of our books due to COVID, wedding cancellations, corporate event cancellations, things like that,” Scott-Williams said.

She said they tried to pivot and salvage some of that revenue by doing pop up events and other outreach, but large events are their bread and butter.

“Nothing really could replace the events that we were doing on a weekly basis,” Scott-Williams said.

But then she got a call from Chef Eric Rogers, the co-owner of Lyndhurst-based restaurant Black Box Fix, asking her to help with their BBF Impact program.

“We also wanted to not only help chefs but help business owners, small business owners so we looked to see where that need was,” Rogers said.

Scott-Williams’ answer was obvious.

“Um, yes, sign me up!” she said.

Since April, the restaurant has been delivering meals to seniors in East Cleveland, joining forces with the Western Reserve Area Agency on Aging and increasing those deliveries to 1,000 a day. The agency said they're so popular, the program now has a waiting list.

“It's meals that are prepared locally for the people who want those types of meals so they have the right spices, the right this, the right that and people just love to eat them and we've had nothing but compliments,” Doug Beach, the CEO of the Western Reserve Area Agency on Aging, said.

“Although there are shelf-stable meals, there are frozen meals that can be out there - there's nothing like a warm meal,” June Taylor the Chief of Performance, People, and Measurement at the Western Reserve Area Agency on Aging, said.

For the last month, Scott-Williams and Pearl Flower Catering have prepared 250 of those meals daily. She has also re-hired two of her full-time employees and added four additional sub-contractors.

“This has really taken the place of being able to staff our kitchen every day,” Scott-Williams said.

“The capacity that she was able to, you know, as well, employ out of work chefs and add more resources to her business so it's just been a blessing,” Rogers said.

Her crew is now able to provide for their own families while also helping dozens of others.

“Just to think that I'm helping someone else's grandma, or someone else's parent who, you know, especially times like now just need that extra piece of love in their day, which is a hot meal,” Scott-Williams said.

Scott-Williams said even though things are still slow for her business these days, a lot of people are calling and booking for next year. She’s hopeful that if everyone wears masks and practices social distancing, things will look up in 2021.

As for the BBF Impact program, Beach said there is currently a waiting list, but the federal funding for the program will run out by early January if another stimulus bill is not passed. He’s urging every senior in the program and those who support the program to reach out to their congressperson to hopefully get more funding to keep the meals going.

WRAAA is also looking to partner with more local restaurants for meal delivery services. Contact information can be found here.

Jade Jarvis is a reporter at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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