NM businesses step up in tough times

“Anguishing.” That’s the first word M’tucci’s Restaurants President John Haas uses to describe what it was like for him and other company leaders to furlough about 200 employees amid fallout from the new coronavirus.

“It’s literally the worst possible thing that could happen,” Haas said.

Haas and M’tucci’s are not alone.

Above, Paulie Gonzales, manager of M’tucci’s 25, hands a loaf of bread to go along with two meals to Keith Parker, a cook who was furloughed from the restaurant.

Strict measures designed to slow the spread of COVID-19 have had a devastating effect on New Mexico’s business community and workforce. Restaurants and bars, forced to adapt to the closing of their dining rooms, are trying to find ways to subsist on takeout orders and delivery alone. Other businesses are figuring out whether they have what it takes to run on remote work. Meanwhile, thousands of New Mexicans are suddenly finding themselves unemployed or furloughed.

Under the extraordinary circumstances, it would be tough to expect that businesses would step up their charitable giving.

But it’s happening more than you might think.

Paulie Gonzales, manager of the M’Tucci’s 25 gets two meals for furloughed server Stephanie DeJesus and her son, Eric, on Wednesday. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

There are the big guys, so to speak – the Thornburg Foundation is offering $240,000 in grants to Albuquerque- and Santa Fe-area nonprofits that serve vulnerable populations affected by the coronavirus pandemic, while the PNM Resources Foundation is giving away $200,000 to nonprofits with programs aimed at increasing community safety. The New Mexico Gas Co. has donated $150,000 to the New Mexico Association of Food Banks. The Emergency Action Fund, which was set up by the Albuquerque Community Foundation and United Way of Central New Mexico to fund local nonprofits, had raised $300,000 by Wednesday, with corporate gifts from Wells Fargo, Sandia National Laboratories, Bank of America, Nusenda, U.S. Eagle and Public Service Company of New Mexico. National waste management company Veolia North America donated 2,000 surgical masks to Albuquerque-area hospitals.

But it’s not just the corporate giants and major utilities lending a hand.

Take M’tucci’s, for example. The restaurant group is trying to support its own by giving away more than 200 meals each day to furloughed employees and their immediate families, as well as by donating all carryout tips to the furloughed workers.

Then there’s Pizza 9, which has donated gift certificates for more than 50,000 personal-size pizzas to school districts around the state to distribute to students – a gift that got an assist from The Printers Press Inc., an Albuquerque company that waived printing expenses on the rush order of certificates.

Pizza 9 has donated over 50,000 gift certificates to students for a free personal-size cheese or pepperoni pizza across New Mexico amid a statewide school closure.

Terri Cole, president and CEO of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, said the organization gave hospitals 250 N95 masks donated by businesses in the construction sector – 200 from B&D Industries and 50 from Southwest Abatement. Jaynes Corp. and American National Insulation donated another 250 masks.

Aishawn Whitaker, 14, gets a free personal-size pepperoni pie from Pizza 9 server Joslyn Pinera on Tuesday in Albuquerque. The pizza company has donated more than 50,000 gift certificates to students across New Mexico amid a statewide school closure. ( Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Earlier this month, when closure seemed imminent for many, other restaurants chose to donate their perishables rather than let the food go to waste, said Carol Wight, CEO of the New Mexico Restaurant Association.

David Romero, owner of Frost Gelato at Uptown, was one. Romero gave away all the freshly prepared gelato and other products in his store March 20, and donated fresh fruit and nearly 100 gallons of milk to local hospitals and first responders.

Even at the individual level, business leaders are stepping up, said Leadership New Mexico President Patty Komko, pointing to Red River real estate broker and Leadership New Mexico alumnus Rob Swan, who offered on social media March 21 to help anyone in the Red River or Questa areas worried about food availability connect with local whole animal sources.

A line of customers waits outside Frost Gelato at Uptown on March 20 for gelato the store gave away to clear its perishables. The store is now closed in response to restrictions intended to curb the spread of COVID-19, but franchise owner Daniel Romero said he hopes to reopen soon for carryout only. ( Courtesy Daniel Romero)

Swan, who offered to help butcher and process animals at no cost, said Wednesday that he doesn’t think anybody is going hungry as a result of COVID-19.

“(But) when your freezer’s full of meat, it’s one thing less to worry about,” he said.

Twisters and Circle K are offering free coffee to health care workers and first responders. El Patron staff visited local emergency rooms to give away about 200 burritos to ER workers. And Steve Echols of the nonprofit Wings for Life International is giving away refurbished bicycles for kids and adults who want to exercise while stuck at and near their homes.

The list goes on, and on, and on.

Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce CEO Ernie C’deBaca said what’s so notable about these and other efforts is the very grim future facing New Mexico business owners – particularly those who own smaller companies.

“These are the ones that really make you feel good about people,” C’deBaca said. “In all reality, they’re facing very difficult decisions on their own.”

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