'Restaurant Brigade' gives life to businesses and free meals to hospital workers

A $20,000 grant from Flagstar Bank to Main Street Oakland County and Downtown Pontiac helped seven Pontiac restaurants create the “Pontiac Restaurant Brigade” and deliver 1,440 free meals to three local hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The brigade – patterned after a similar effort in New Orleans for Hurricane Katrina – has nearly exhausted its funds and is seeking donations to continue feeding essential workers at McLaren Oakland Hospital, St. Joseph Mercy Oakland Hospital, and Pontiac General Hospital.

“I’m so grateful for the support our health care heroes have received from the generosity of Flagstar Bank,” Oakland County Executive David Coulter said.

“These restaurants have gotten a shot in the arm from the grant, which included giving life to three restaurants that were closed due to the pandemic. I encourage businesses or individuals to contribute if they can so this important program can continue. It helps our small businesses and our front-line responders.”

Oakland County is collaborating with a host of community organizations including the Area Agency on Aging 1-B, Oakland Livingston Human Services Agency, Meals on Wheels, Community Housing Network, Hope Warming Center, and Oakland Hope Pantry to assist with food and shelter needs for individuals and families. Through the restaurant emergency shelter support program, two or three meals a day are provided to 700 people in Pontiac.

The county also partners with mycovidresponse.org, a collaboration between the Pontiac Community Foundation, Lighthouse of Oakland County, and Oakland University, which is feeding approximately 2,500 families a week with door-to-door services as well as assisting with other needs such as finding daycare for essential workers, baby and toddler needs, and providing for seniors who would like a daily phone call to help with loneliness.

The restaurant brigade created a rotating schedule to help feed essential workers. These hospitals have been particularly impacted with Oakland County being among the hardest hit counties in the state with confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths. But the brigade needs additional funding to keep this program’s momentum.

Downtown Pontiac restaurants that prepared and delivered meals are The Liberty Bar, Little Mo, Alley Cat Café, Green Room Café, Fillmore 13 Brewery, Exferimentation, and M1. Three of the restaurants had been closed until the grant money became available.

“The Downtown Pontiac Restaurant Brigade is a new way for Flagstar to continue its support of small businesses in Pontiac,” said Beverly Meek, Flagstar Bank director of community reinvestment. “It gives us the opportunity to showcase local restaurants, while supporting our front-line workers and addressing the critical need for food among our seniors and others in the community.”

Main Street Pontiac is accepting tax deductible financial donations to keep fueling the brigade as long as possible. Donations may be sent to Main Street Pontiac through its website at http://mainstreetpontiac.org/donate.

“It’s been a tough time for all of us as we adjust to the new ‘normal’ of our lives,” said Chris Jackson, board president for Main Street Pontiac. “Small businesses in Downtown Pontiac, restaurants in particular, have been severely impacted and the available resources are limited.

“The restaurant brigade has provided a lifeline to help sustain our downtown restaurants thanks in large part to Main Street Pontiac’s collaboration with Flagstar Bank, Oakland County, and the restaurant owners. Small business is the lifeblood of our community, and we believe that this program, mixed with the resiliency of our small business owners, will lead to a thriving Downtown Pontiac marketplace.”

Oakland County is the first and still only county in the United States to operate a full-service, county-wide Main Street program, which focuses on historic preservation and downtown revitalization.

In 2019, public and private investment in Main Street Oakland County totaled more than $50.2 million and resulted in 450 net new jobs; 60 net new businesses; and contributions of more than 28,460 volunteer hours. To date, more than $837 million in public and private investments have been made to Main Street downtowns, establishing 1,163 new businesses and generating 8,000 jobs.

Designated Main Street Oakland County communities include Auburn Hills, Berkley, Birmingham, Clarkston, Clawson, Farmington, Ferndale, Franklin, Groveland Township, Hazel Park, Highland Township, Holly, Holly Township, Lake Orion, Lathrup Village, Leonard, Madison Heights, Oak Park, Ortonville, Oxford, Pontiac, Rochester, Royal Oak, South Lyon, and Wixom.

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