Everything was going right for Lindsay Allen Bard ’02. She had recently become the general manager of a large fast-casual restaurant in Tampa, Florida. The restaurant was part of a chain and she had just moved from an affiliated restaurant in Austin, Texas, to take the position.
Her husband, Chris, was finishing up the winter and spring sports seasons at the University of Texas, where he was overseeing the concessions food service group. He planned to join her in May after the university’s spring sports season was over, then look for a similar position with one of the many professional or college teams in the region.
“We had just signed a lease on our home and moved everything in,” Bard said, “and a month later everything hit.”
“Everything” was the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting stay-in-place orders that effectively closed every public gathering place across the country. The Bards’ world came to a crashing halt. Chris, who had already announced he was leaving, was one of the first people furloughed at the university. Lindsay had to break the news to the restaurant’s 75 employees they were being laid off before being furloughed herself.
Chris joined her in Tampa. They had set back some money for a rainy day, so that wasn’t an immediate problem. But, she said, “it was the first time (since graduating from Purdue University) that I didn’t have a job. I was sitting around going stir-crazy.”
Bard could feel the anxiety building up. She was out of her routine. She was attempting to navigate the Florida’s unemployment website without much success. “I was trying to help my employees apply for unemployment. Trying to apply for myself.”
As the days wore on, she became even more concerned for her employees, looking for every grant or program she could find to help them get by. And she started worrying about her future if the shutdown continued for too long.
Then a friend suggested the couple put their culinary skills to use making meals for the staff at Gracepoint Wellness, a nonprofit mental health facility in Tampa. Since the pandemic, the 150 employees arrive in the morning, have their temperature checked and are screened for signs of illness before entering. Once they are inside, they are not allowed to leave until their shift is over.
For some employees that meant no lunch. While they are considered essential personnel, Bard explained, some of them are now the sole bread winner in the household. Money may be tight, so lunch is not an option. That is why she and her husband decided to accept the offer.
It was originally for just one lunch period. But that was followed by another, then another. Now, they have prepared more than 5,000 meals for the staff. They receive food donations from U.S. Foods and the grocery store chain Publix, plus they have a small $100 daily budget to feed 150 people.
“We’ve had to find ways to stretch,” she said. That means serving chicken one day and chicken pot pies the next from the facility’s small kitchen. “We’ve had to be inventive.”
For Bard, the routine of planning and preparing the meals offers a unique release. “This was such a great opportunity,” she explained. Not only is she doing something that benefit others, she is benefiting herself in the process. “It makes me feel like I’m doing something valuable.”
And, Bard hopes, this will be the lesson everyone takes away from this experience.
“All we really have is each other,” she said. “We need to use our time and talents to help each other . . . to lift each other up.”