DERRY — A pizza shop owner in Londonderry and a Derry resident are combining their resources into a single pop-up food and supplies pantry to serve the at-risk community.
Last week, independently of one another, Juliano’s Italian Pizzeria owner Jeffrey Meisenburg and Derry resident Brian DeSimone set up some tables with canned goods, paper products, pastas, breads and other items of need in the community.
DeSimone and his wife Renée set it up in front of their home on North Main Street initially. What started as a single table of some excess items pulled from their own cupboards soon grew to several tables covered by daily donations coming in from community members, and some volunteers stepping up to make deliveries.
Meisenburg set up a small table of items at his restaurant and was working behind the scenes to deliver some needed supplies to individuals and dropped off some gloves and bleach to the Candia Police Department.
DeSimone, meanwhile, had to relocate his amateur pantry operation to an area furniture store after some men claiming to be local business owners confronted him angrily over his operation, which they felt was hurting their business.
When the furniture store closed shortly after, DeSimone and Meisenburg had already started talking about pooling their resources. As of Tuesday, all the food and supplies the two had amassed had been set up on six-foot tables lining the outer walls of Juliano’s dining area, with room to add more.
“I felt kinda like I stole his idea, so I reached out to him,” Meisenburg said.
He said he’s known DeSimone for about five or six years.
“There’s a lot of advantages for us to come together,” DeSimone said.
DeSimone said the restaurant will have additional space, plus a cooler and freezer for perishable foods, and some built-in delivery staff to help make deliveries to elderly and quarantined folks.
Meisenburg said the food will be available to the public during his restaurant’s adjusted open hours, which may yet change again with updates posted to Facebook.
People can make requests through DeSimone’s new Facebook group called “We are all in this together” — which garnered over 270 members in just two days — or they can call his cell phone at (603) 674-8792.
Meisenburg said he’s been stockpiling some supplies and has ordered some extra toilet paper, paper towels and other items through his store vendor, W.B. Mason. Eventually, he also hopes to mix up some homemade hand sanitizer with some grain alcohol and other ingredients he’s purchased in bulk.
After Meisenburg’s daughter, who is a nurse working at Catholic Medical Center in Manchester, was in tears last Thursday over fears of running out of N95 facemasks, Meisenburg became passionate about the issue.
He said they’ll be taking donations of masks at the restaurant and distributing them to front-line workers in need.
“I want to bring attention to the masks that we need,” Meisenburg said. “That’s what’s closest to my heart.”
Meisenburg said they are looking for some additional volunteers to help out, and donations of things like eggs, milk and meats.
He said he’s also worried about his business and wants to make sure it stays afloat amid the COVID-19-related shutdowns.
Meisenburg estimates about 20 percent of his usual business comes from dine-in service, about 30 percent from take-out and about 50 percent from deliveries. Not only has he lost the dine-in revenue, but sales are down for take-out and deliveries.
“I’m trying to save my business and help people at the same time,” Meisenburg said.
He’s had to reduce hours and eliminate shifts during slow times to cut down on overhead, but he was already understaffed after some workers left just before the pandemic struck, so he’s in the unusual position of avoiding layoffs.
In fact, he said he needs to hire more part-time cashiers and cooks, jobs which may become full-time after the crisis abates.