'I've seen people meet the need': While closed from COVID-19, Shoney’s gives back to workers, Sumter community


The coronavirus pandemic has been difficult for people across the world.

One of the trades to take the biggest hit was the restaurant industry, as businesses suddenly can't have people gathering in their dining rooms for service. While drive-throughs and deliveries are still an option for some restaurants, it's not on the table for everyone, causing many businesses to shut down either temporarily or for good.

One of those businesses in Sumter was Shoney's, which has temporarily closed its doors and spent the time it's been closed deep-cleaning the restaurant in preparation for the day it can reopen.

Because the restaurant closed, business partners Glenn Woodrum and Steve Cochran were concerned about the well-being of their employees at Shoney's. Cochran said they were able to take out a loan, which was part of the federal economic relief package that was approved last week, to make sure employees were paid for the next month, but they thought there was more the pair could do. They looked at the food that was still in the freezers and devised a plan.

"Our heart goes out to our hourly employees, not knowing how badly they struggle sometimes," said Cochran. "We had food still in our freezer, and we felt like we could take the food that we had and put a meal program together."

So, that's exactly what they did. Starting on Wednesday, employees could come and get a predetermined meal. That boxed meal would be made available starting at noon until supplies last Monday through Friday.

That was at least the start of the idea. The team at Shoney's then decided to go the extra mile.

The restaurant already worked with First Presbyterian Church on a program called Backpack Blessings, a program that helps underserved children food for the weekend when not in school. The team decided to find another way to benefit that foundation by making these meals available to the community for a voluntary donation of $5. Community members can stop by the restaurant to pick up meals.

"We just felt like reaching out to our community and taking the benefits of whatever they donate and give it to Backpack Blessings so we can continue to feed these kids," Cochran said.

"It's just something we can do during this period of time," Woodrum added. "We've got people that we're paying, and there's nothing for them to do, so we just felt like this was something we could do for people."

Woodrum said the Backpack Blessings program was an important piece of the puzzle because during these stressful times, it's important to look out for the people most in need.

"As this came about, we thought if we could continue with the program, we wanted to. Of course, with the schools closed, it's much harder," Woodrum said. "The guidance counselors at two of the schools are actually delivering the food to homes for us. It's another outreach program that shows people going the extra mile."

These times have been difficult for everyone, but Nick Cheek at First Presbyterian is appreciative that people like the folks at Shoney's are looking out for the community.

"It's fantastic. Glenn and his crew at Shoney's are some of the most generous people I know. They're wonderful human beings. I'm thankful for people like Glenn Woodrum looking out for the community," Cheek said. "He's suffering right now because sales are so down in all these restaurants, but he's not thinking about himself. Shoney's is thinking about the community."

While you might think programs like Backpack Blessings would take a big hit during the pandemic, Cheek says he's seen the opposite effect. Sometimes bad situations give people the chance to step up.

"I've seen people meet the need," Cheek said. "When things change and things become harder, it takes more time, and it takes people coming together and figuring out how to fix that. People have done that, thank God, because they care about this community."

Shoney's plans on running this program for as long as it can, but that length of time is unknown.

"Until we run out of food. We've got a few weeks' worth of menu, and after that there's nothing saying we won't get out and get more if this is successful," Cochran said. "I'd say (Wednesday) has been successful between the employees and the community, we've probably done about 50 or 60 lunch boxes (in the first hour)."

The crew at Shoney's isn't sure when they're going to be able to open their doors again. Much like the rest of the world, they're just trying to take things one day at a time.

"We haven't really gotten that far to be honest. Things change every day, and that curve hasn't started going down yet," Cochran said. "We're kinda like everybody else right now, nobody knows."