The store front of Avalanche Pizza

Local Businesses Get Creative to Help their Communities

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ATHENS, Ohio — Businesses in Athens are stepping up to help their community during this time of uncertainty amid the Covid-19 chaos.

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine asked residents to stay at home and ordered non-essential businesses to close down as a precaution against the virus.

Several local businesses have closed down as a result. Many employees have either taken a cut in hours or they’ve been laid-off entirely because their employers can’t afford to keep paying them.

Many Ohio residents and small businesses have taken a financial hit due to the coronavirus and are left in need.

John Gutekanst, owner of Avalanche Pizza, decided to use his business as a way to help those around him.

“What we do is we come in around six, seven, eight in the morning and we make sandwiches and then we have a whole assembly line up and we assemble all these [lunch] boxes,” he said.

A picture of one of the lunch boxes assembled by Avalanche.
Photo Courtesy: Avalanche Pizza.

Gutekanst and his team have partnered with Nelsonville Food Pantry to distribute more than 2,000 boxed lunches throughout the county.

He said a lot of the people who volunteer to make the boxes are members of the community who aren’t even employed by Avalanche. One week a few young girls sold masks they made and raised $1,600 to donate to Avalanche’s food donation program.

Gutekanst said they started to prepare the lunch boxes when the pandemic began and he realized kids were no longer getting free lunches from school.

Volunteers help distribute boxed lunches
Volunteers help distribute boxed lunches.

“Now that the school systems have ramped up everything that’s taken care of, but we just kept doing it because the food pantries around are taking care of a lot of people and there’s still a lot of need out there,” Gutekanst said. 

More Than Food

The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services reported that unemployment claims made in the past six weeks are more than the amount made in the past two years combined.

Graph of Ohio Unemployment Claims

More people are starting to rely on their local food pantries for nutrition as unemployment claims continue to rise.

Some Ohio food banks will have to wait weeks to get certain supplies due to delays.

Gutekanst said people are in need of more than food these days, and there are school nurses in the Athens County School system who are making sure kids are getting all the supplies they need.

“What they do is they distribute personal items every month to people,” he said. “This is like toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant, tampons, stuff that you wouldn’t think that people are in need of.”

Avalanche Pizza isn’t the only Athens business stepping in to help.

Brenen’s Coffee Cafe is giving out free boxed lunches to those in need. West End Cider House is using its distillery to produce hand sanitizer to make up for the supply shortage since the pandemic started. The Nelsonville Quilt Company made re-usable masks for people instead of quilts.

Headshot of Dairy Barn Director Leah Magyary
Photo Courtesy of Leah Magyary

Leah Magyary, Executive Director of The Dairy Barn Arts Center in Athens, said it’s offering a limited supply of free, year-long household memberships to the essential workers who are helping to keep the community running while so much is shut down.

I know that a lot of people have been working a lot of extra hours, working in situations that may be scary at a time like right now,” she said. 

Magyary said that the Dairy Barn team wanted to find a way to both thank the essential workers for going above and beyond and maintain the art center’s mission.

“We want to make sure that we’re keeping our mission at the forefront during this time, and make sure that folks are still getting interested in art and utilizing art in ways that can help in situations right now or that can be very therapeutic,” she said. 

Picture of The Dairy Barn
Photo Courtesy of The Dairy Barn

The Dairy Barn will also be offering up some of its space to host a Red Cross Blood Drive on June 26.

Finding Ways to Help 

Margyary said it’s important for those looking to help their community do some self-reflection and decide what their “superpowers” are.

“I think that’s when they’ll be able to find their niche and how they can help just by doing what’s in their power just in the current circumstances,” she said.

Gutekanst said if someone is interested in helping Avalanche with food donation, they can go to their website and choose to “donate a lunch” through the ordering screen.

He also wants to remind people not to pass judgment on those who are utilizing community resources because they’re trying their best, and some are struggling even though they may still have jobs.

“It’s not that they’re just poor, they don’t have a job, they’re sitting around. No, they’re working. Trying to do their best,” Gutekanst said.