As the necessary COVID-19 restrictions keep us safe at home, local restaurants are struggling to stay afloat—and for our neighbors to the east in Sierra Madre, the situation is no less dire. The small cluster of restaurants orbiting Kersting Court that once offered a wide variety of excellent dishes has been reduced to a trickle of to-go orders and the occasional gift card sale. Unwilling to stand by and watch, local business owners Mike Comer and Tom Denison pulled together a team of volunteers and started Sierra Madre Thrives, a nonprofit initiative aimed at helping both the people and the businesses of the city through this difficult time.
As former volunteer firemen for the city, neither Comer nor Denison were accustomed to staying on the sidelines of disaster. They started a GoFundMe and set the goal at $6,000. Within a few days, donations began pouring in and blew past their modest goal, and the team used the funds to start Sierra Madre Thrives’ Quarantine Canteen.
Here’s how the Quarantine Canteen works: once a week, the organization partners with a local restaurant to hand out no-strings-attached free meals, inviting people who have lost jobs or otherwise struggled during the pandemic. Sierra Madre Thrives then uses donations to cover the full cost of the meals, giving much-needed income to local eateries. On an average night, restaurants hand out around 300 meals, feeding people in need while earning back lost business.
At the time of writing, Sierra Madre Thrives has been able to raise more than $50,000 and serve over 4,000 meals, all with the help of 200 local volunteers. Although the program is winding down as restaurants begin reopening their dining rooms, it stands as an example of the type of community leadership and determined initiative it takes to see a city and its people through a crisis.