When the news of the first coronavirus death in Washington state came in early March, Gourmondo Catering & Box Lunches lost 25% of its business. Founder and CEO Alissa Leinonen quickly re-forecasts; What began as another record year for their company turned into a forecast loss instead. The next day, when the number of cancellations persisted, they fell 50% – and by Wednesday March 4th, Gourmondo had lost 80% of its business by 2020.
At that point, with hindsight, closing the store would have been the path of least resistance. But when Leinonen was tempted to throw in the towel, she didn’t show it. And while many other local business owners decided to close, she and the Gourmondo team decided to stay open – but only if that made a difference.
“I said to my team, ‘I’m going to ask everyone to push hard and be creative and be patient and flexible because it’s going to be a bumpy road,” she said. “We are committed to keeping these doors open, so we’ll make it as useful as possible.”
Since that decision, Gourmondo has provided more than 250,000 meals to the people who need them most – such as the elderly who cannot leave their homes, frontline health workers, and public school students and their families.
The Seattle School Board closed all public schools on March 12th. For thousands of students, this no longer meant free breakfast or lunch. Days later, Gourmondo joined Amazon as a funder and the food-focused nonprofit Farestart as an employee. They currently produce around 2,200 meals a day for students and their families.
[Farestart ramps up efforts to provide food for those in need]
“It was a real mess just making sure these kids kept getting meals,” said Leinonen. “Many of them participate in assisted meal programs so they really need support. And Farestart absolutely sets the gold standard for caring for those in need and feeding those struggling with food insecurity.”
Farestart isn’t Gourmondo’s only partner in finding families in Seattle. Many local multi-generation Seattle grocery wholesalers – such as Charlie’s Produce, Mondo & Sons Meats, Borracchini Foods Inc., and Merlino Foods – also took the chance to get involved. And then there are the farmers who send “significant amounts” of fresh produce. It’s a love job, said Leinonen.
“We wanted these meals to be more than just, ‘Hey, this is a sandwich,'” she said. “We wanted to offer a starter, a dessert, a side dish with it [the recipients] knew they were a big deal. Often times, we also include a note in the box with a thank you or encouragement. It was just a wonderful program. “
Most Seattle public school students “virtually went back to school” on September 4, with the exception of those students receiving personal special education services. And from now on there is no telling how long the classrooms will remain empty. As the pandemic progresses, Leinonen continues to emphasize flexibility when it comes to what Gourmondo can offer to best serve their community. She’s a fourth generation Seattlite so it’s for her personal.
“As we learn more, we change and work hard to meet needs where we can find them,” she said. “You have to be nimble and ready to do what it takes because the need has never been greater. I think we all crawl, all nonprofits crawl, and we just want to do it.” our part to help. “
One thing is certain: now that Gourmondo is so unreservedly committed to the community, there will be no return to “normal” post-pandemic (whenever that may be).
“One of the reasons for this COVID crisis is because I, as a business owner, have realized that it is really important that we continue to do our part and build a division of the company that focuses on supporting nonprofit organizations,” said Leinonen . “In particular, we are striving for a more permanent and long-term relationship with Farestart. We would like to continue to support them after the pandemic. I have a large company – the infrastructure, the vehicles, the team – and I have to use that to help the city, that I love. “