Catholic Business Owners Find Ways to Help Coronavirus Victims

Despite the negative impact the pandemic is inflicting on their own bottom lines, they are determined to ease the burdens of others.

Night-shift nurses at Mount Sinai in New York City who couldn’t get take-out because of restrictions until Woody’s Ocean Grille in Sea Bright, NJ, sent them food.
Night-shift nurses at Mount Sinai in New York City who couldn’t get take-out because of restrictions until Woody’s Ocean Grille in Sea Bright, NJ, sent them food. (photo: Courtesy of Woody’s Ocean Grille)

When the coronavirus pandemic reached his community, Cleves Delp’s first thought was where and how he and his wealth-management company could help families.

At his urging, TDC Investment Advisory Services in Maumee, Ohio, began setting up employee-assistance programs aimed at getting money and supplies to health-care workers who need it the most, whether they have been affected by the job loss of a spouse or require something else like child care. One program is being partly funded by TDC employees and a second by TDC client families. In each instance, a TDC client family has offered to match all gifts.  

During a time when Catholic business owners are being affected themselves by state-imposed shutdowns and restrictions intended to protect people from the coronavirus, many are finding ways to help others.

The effort by TDC Investment Advisory, which sees its mission as helping families and businesses define and achieve their goals, reflects the Catholic faith of team members.

“I would say a large majority in our firm are Catholic and not shy about the place of the Catholic faith in the workplace,” Vice President Jim Herrick said. “In fact, we celebrate it.”

Herrick said Delp initiated the programs because he wanted to do something community-wide that would help families most affected by the virus.

“The generosity has been driven by him and he has set such an example where everyone in the company wants to be more generous with their time, talent and treasure,” he said.

In Brooklyn, businessman and landlord Mario Salerno has waived the April rents of nearly 200 tenants in his rental properties knowing many have lost their jobs because of the shutdown of so-called nonessential businesses.

“I wanted them to have some peace of mind not to worry about where their next dollar was,” he told EWTN News Nightly.

Salerno, who prays regularly at a shrine he keeps in his main office, said his Catholic faith inspired him. Asked how much waiving rents for a month was costing him, he responded, “We don’t want to really bring that issue up. That’s irrelevant to the value of a human life and … I value people’s lives.”


Thinking of Others

In Washington, D.C., chef Geoff Tracy had to close four of his six restaurants but is offering takeout and delivery and running a neighborhood pantry at the two sites that remain open. Part of the daily proceeds from the pantries, which sell toilet paper, bleach, gloves, tissues, pasta, snacks, fresh fruit and pasta sauce made by the restaurants, go to employees who are working that day. Additionally, Tracy has set up a GoFundMe account for hourly employees. Already, it has distributed $22,000 to 90 people.

Tracy, who has a degree in theology from Georgetown University, said when he was figuring out what to do after his restaurants had to stop serving dine-in guests on March 16, one of his executive chefs who is a person of faith assured him, “We’ve got to keep going, moving forward and God will take care of the rest.”

Tracy said he has been motivated to think of others in the midst of his own struggles because from a young age he has known it is important to help people.  

“Whether it’s from my faith, family or parents,” he said, “I’ve always been surrounded by people who reminded me of this . . . I feel like it’s something that’s intrinsic.”

In Marion, Ill., Lee Crisp’s Pepsi MidAmerica is working with restaurants and other small businesses to help them continue operating at a time when many can’t pay their bills.

“It’s not heroic, but it’s something one-on-one that we’re trying to work through with all our customers,” Crisp said. “All of us have had challenges in our lives. No one is exempt. And we’ve had challenges. When my grandfather was running the company and we had a fire … we figured we were done. Our supplier, a bottlecap maker, said, ‘We’re here for you. Pay us when you get the money.’ And we never forgot it.”


Pay-What-You-Can Option

In New York and New Jersey, Peter Forlenza has reached out to those affected by the coronavirus pandemic in both of his roles — as an executive overseeing 800 employees with Jefferies LLC and the co-owner of two restaurants on the Jersey Shore.

As global head of equities for Jefferies, Forlenza was part of a push early on to get the company to invest in the technology to allow employees to work remotely, something 95% globally are now doing. He also has been concerned about the people who work under him and has been holding 30-minute calls with various teams each day to find out how they are doing.

He said, “I just want to make sure people know we’re looking out for them.”

As a restaurant owner, despite having to close one of two Woody’s Ocean Grille restaurants, Forlenza and his partner are trying to keep all 50 of their salaried employees on the payroll. Besides selling take-out food at the Woody’s location in Sea Bright, New Jersey, they also have implemented a “pay what you can” option for customers who have suffered a loss of income.

“It’s really on trust. We don’t ask people for anything,” Forlenza said. “It’s just done privately. When they pass the order they say they’re taking advantage of the pay-what-you-can option.”

Even so, he said, most customers pay something and many pay extra to help the cause. Woody’s also recently sent a carload of meals from the restaurant to an overnight shift of 10 nurses at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York who couldn’t find any food during the hours they were working.

Forlenza, a Catholic University of America graduate who serves on the board of the university’s Busch School of Business, said he was moved to do what he did because of the way he and his six siblings were raised.

“It’s kind of in your DNA when you’re baptized and then reinforced through Catholic schools.  ... Just the entire culture of my Catholic faith is one of giving and helping others.”

As a business owner in New Jersey, Forlenza also helped with the recovery following Hurricane Sandy. He helped start Sea Bright Rising, a group that was later folded into SBP, a national effort focused on rebuilding after natural disasters.


Helping Businesses

Brian Becker, director of small-business outreach for the Ciocca Center for Principled Entrepreneurship at The Catholic University of America, said it’s not surprising to see small business people reaching out to help others during the coronavirus crisis.

“With small businesses, you really do encounter some of the finest people I’ve met,” he said. “They are salt of the earth, incredibly loving, incredibly hard-working people.”

That said, he added, their margins are thin and the daunting challenges they face in any circumstance are being exacerbated by the current crisis.

To help those businesses affected during the coronavirus outbreak, the Ciocca Center is offering one-on-one coaching, virtual workshops, newsletters and “virtual happy hours,” the first of which featured advice for navigating Small Business Administration loans. Becker said the center has done more than 30 one-on-one consultations and has more than 700 business people receiving its newsletters, which have been ramped up to weekly distribution.

“When we saw all the businesses our students collaborate with during the year plunged into a sudden crisis, we knew we couldn’t just stand by and watch,” Becker said. “We committed ourselves to stand with local businesses in whatever way we could.”  

Register correspondent Judy Roberts writes from Graytown, Ohio.

Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray testifies Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee at the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

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