SMITHFIELD – A local business is giving back to the community and helping families who may be hungry and in need. Under the Oak Restaurant in Downtown Smithfield was among many restaurants forced to close due to COVID-19.
The owner, Blake Gotlieff, in partnership with his landlord, Patrick Yauch, recently donated homemade meals to families in need in the Smithfield community.
Blake said he wanted to participate in the meal donation program and began by supporting a non-profit called Bridge the Gap Mission in Raleigh. Blake’s close friend, Kelli Pfitzer runs the non-profit. “The work she has been doing is incredibly inspiring. We helped support her cause for a bit, feeding elderly and low income families, but started seeing the growing need here in Johnston County especially with school closures due to COVID-19 and summer break where students aren’t in the school building daily to receive meals.”
Downtown Smithfield Development Director Sarah Edwards put Blake in contact with Hadley Lee, Family and Community Engagement Liasion with Johnston County Public Schools (JCPS) serving South Smithfield Elementary and West Smithfield Elementary Schools. From there the free food delivery program was born in the Smithfield area.
“We not only wanted to help feed those in need but also saw an opportunity to temporarily employ out of work cooks to produce these meals as well. We have been blessed with such a supportive community in Smithfield, and our pivot to an online grocery/butchershop was becoming successful and we did not need to lay off any of our staff. I strongly feel, when a vast majority of people are suffering, others should not be profiting when they could be using additional resources to help others. Whether it is employing more people, donated time and labor, or assisting others financially. My grandparents were this way, always. They sponsored so many children in need, huge contributors to their church, and would never hesitate to help those in need. I am so grateful I inherited this trait and want to continue their legacy of philanthropy.”
Blake and Patrick donated 50 meals, each feeding a family of four. Hadley then delivered the meals to families in need in the community.
Some Under the Oak customers have also been purchasing “pay it forward meals” to help others in need. A Go Fund Me Account is also being established to help raise money for additional free meal deliveries over the summer. Carolina Packers also donated use of some space in their giant freezer for storage.
“JCPS does provide meals Monday through Thursday during the summer for those ages 0-18. However, many families in our community lack transportation to get the meals or work during the day and are unable to get to the schools to pickup meals. This gracious act of kindness by Under the Oak and those supporting this fundraiser is a supplement to these school meals for those in need. It truly takes a combined effort from people to help those in need. In addition, these meals are delivered frozen so that families can serve when needed, for those that can’t get to the schools or perhaps in the evenings or weekends when school lunches are not provided,” Lee said. She will be delivering more meals next week thanks to Under the Oak and hope to continue as long as possible as donations come in.
The family owned and operated Under the Oak Restaurant is located at 135 South Third Street in Downtown Smithfield.