An employee at Black Cypress hands a free meal to a community member. (Photos courtesy of WSU Photo Services)

Contagious Generosity:
Pullman Serves it Forward Helps Families in Need, Local Restaurants

By Becky Kramer

A customer picks up a take-out meal at Paradise Creek Brewery.

Pullman Serves it Forward has raised more than $40,000 since April to provide restaurant meals to families in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The project is the brainchild of Washington State University employees Jamie Callison and Jeanne Weiler, who wanted to help households needing food assistance while supporting Pullman restaurants through purchases of gift cards.

“As a chef and as a community member, I was almost distraught trying to figure out how I could help,” says Callison, executive chef and culinary educator at the WSU School of Hospitality Business Management in the Carson College of Business.

Meanwhile, an article about a similar project at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania crossed the desk of Weiler, community engagement coordinator for WSU’s Pullman campus.

“Like a lot of good ideas, the stars aligned on this one,” Weiler says. A mutual acquaintance steered her to Callison to adapt the concept for Pullman.

They worked with local restaurants and the nonprofit Community Action Center to set up Pullman Serves it Forward. Through donations to the fund, about 1,000 gift cards have been purchased from local restaurants and distributed through agencies serving children, families, and older adults in Whitman County. More than 3,200 meals have been provided through the program.

“The response has been so heart-warming,” Weiler says. “This gives families the opportunity to enjoy really good quality food and at the same time, it supports the Pullman economy and local restaurants.”

Need for food assistance increasing

Kitchen staff work on lunch entrees at South Fork Public House.

Food insecurity is on the rise in Whitman County, where about 1,400 residents have lost jobs since the pandemic started.

“We want each family that uses the service to get a night out—a night they don’t have to worry about dinner,” Callison says. “When times are tough and you have that one dinner out every now and then, it’s a big deal.”

Along with the generous donations from community members, Pullman restaurants have stepped up to support the project with donated gift cards. Although it’s been a difficult year for restaurants, “all of them gave extra to support this program,” Callison says.

Participating restaurants include Birch and Barley, Black Cypress, Heros N Sports, Oak on Main, New Garden Restaurant, Nuevo Vallarta Mexican Restaurant, O-Ramen, Paradise Creek Brewery, Rico’s Public House, South Fork Public House, Subway, Taqueria Chaparrito, and Zoe Coffee and Kitchen.

The generosity is contagious

Jim Harbour is the co-owner of South Fork Public House and an associate clinical professor in the WSU School of Hospitality Business Management.

At Black Cypress, owner Nick Pitsilionis was already donating meals to people in need. Pullman Serves it Forward allowed him to expand those efforts by helping pay for the cost of ingredients. “We’re contributing our facilities and our know-how,” he says.

Money spent at restaurants ripples through the local economy, paying suppliers, vendors and “even the company that cleans our stove hoods,” Pitsilionis says.

“It’s really nice to be part of this effort and to live in a community where people are so willing to help out,” says Jonny Handy (’16), general manager of Paradise Creek Brewery and a Carson College alumnus.

Jim Harbour (’99), co-owner of South Fork, hopes to see Pullman Serves it Forward continue in some form into the future.

“What I think is so creative about this is that everybody wins,” says Harbour, associate clinical professor in the School of Hospitality Business Management. “The donors—large or small—feel good. You’re taking care of families who might not otherwise be able to enjoy a restaurant meal. And restaurants are getting an influx of people.”

“When the giving begins, the generosity is contagious,” Harbour says. “I guess that’s the epitome of hospitality.”

More information on Pullman Serves It Forward is available here.