ELLICOTT CITY, Md. — The cars lined up by noon in one of the public parking lots in historic Ellicott City to fill one of the most basic of needs.
“Produce, some protein, yogurt, milk, bread---a lot of the essentials,” explained La Palapa Owner Simon Cortes as he handed out boxes of groceries from the back of a box truck.
Cortes is behind the relief effort, and he knows firsthand how restaurants and their workers are struggling right now.
He has four locations in Howard County.
“We employee about 150 to 160 staff, and we had to let go about 80 percent,” said Cortes. “Business is down probably 85 to 90 percent.”
The first person in line today?
Betty Spittel, who also knows something about the food business.
She’s run Columbia Chef Catering for 25 years.
“I’m $68,000 from last year in the hole right now as we speak,” said Spittel. “I really can’t pay a bill. Just the little ones we’re getting in. We’re struggling, and that runs out. When that runs out, what do you do? We’re waiting on the government to help us out. We’re waiting. It’s just a waiting game.”
Waiting for a signal that it’s safe to re-open in full, which remains elusive for now.
“As we’re making sure that we’re learning more about the COVID-19 crisis and pandemic, the more that we’ll have an understanding of how we get to the other side,” said Howard County Executive Calvin Ball.
In the meantime, a box of essentials will have to do, addressing at least one of the most basic needs.
“Everything helps,” said Spittel. “Everything helps so maybe what I don’t use being a single person, I can pass on to the guy that lives under me that works up here at The Judge’s Bench. He’s working off of unemployment, you know. We’re all wondering, ‘How are we going to pay our rent the next time?’”
La Palapa teamed up with Saval Foods, a primary distributor for restaurants throughout the area based in Elkridge, which has already given away thousands of meals worth tens of thousands of dollars during the last six weeks.