Restaurants, patrons serving up assistance for CUOC cause

Apr. 20, 2013 @ 05:02 AM

People dining out at certain Lee County restaurants over the course of the next week will automatically, yet indirectly, help others who might not be able to eat out or even afford a trip to the grocery store.

More than 20 restaurants in town will donate part of their proceeds from now until Sunday, April 28, to Christians United Outreach Center, and another — The Steele Pig — will make in-kind donations of food to the nonprofit.

Cafe 121, Feedmeal Restaurant and Brick City Grill all provide year-round donations to CUOC, which runs a food bank in Sanford. Firehouse Subs also donates proceeds from its Tuesday sales throughout the year. This week, in addition to those four, 17 more restaurants will donate parts of their proceeds.

La Dolce Vita Pizzeria, Yarborough's Restaurant, Dickey's Barbecue, Mrs. Wenger's Restaurant, Dandalia Bakery and Coffeehouse, Jim's Family Restaurant, Davison's Steakhouse, Flame Steakhouse, Fairview Dairy Bar, Sweet Frog Frozen Yogurt and Cafe Vesuvio will donate a portion of their proceeds from every day between last Friday and April 28th.

Fresh Choice Cafe will participate on weekdays; Mrs. Lacy's Magnolia House will participate Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday; Kathy's Java Express will participate Monday and both Saturdays; Brick City Oyster Bar and Grill will participate Wednesday and Thursday; Bubba's Subs will participate Wednesday, and Roadrunner Cafe will participate today.

Teresa Kelly, executive director of CUOC, said about twice as many restaurants are involved this year compared to last year — an increase she attributed to the organization's recent and widely known financial struggles. The nonprofit recently changed its policies to only let people pick up a box of food once per month, instead of twice, starting in June. The pantry will continue its policy of not screening visitors, except to ask for proof they have at least applied for food stamps — a move Kelly said will help the families and also might remove some strain on the pantry. Last year, the pantry saw a record number of visitors even as public and private funding decreased.

"We just don't have the donations anymore, and I think the community has heard our cry and is trying to rally up to help us," she said. And while the donations will come automatically from the restaurants, meaning patrons don't have to tell their servers they're there to support CUOC in order for the proceeds to be counted, Kelly said people should mention something else.

"It would be nice to tell them thank you," she said. "We're getting a lot of help."

This isn't the only help CUOC will get in the coming weeks, either. The Relay for Life on May 10 will donate canned food to the group, and on the next day, May 11, anyone who wants to donate without leaving the driveway can simply put non-perishables in a bag on a mailbox, and carriers will deliver it to the pantry at 2885 Lee Ave.

One unexpected blow to the group's donations, Kelly said, was the postponement of the local Small Business Expo, announced Thursday. She said CUOC typically benefits from a canned food drive at that event, which had been scheduled for May 15, and she's hoping that aspect returns if and when the expo happens — especially since direct donations, donations from the United Way and government grants are all on the decline.

"Every time we turn around, it's just something else," she said.

More information about CUOC and its needs and projects can be found at www.cuoclc.org.