Gwinnett neighbors help restaurants, COVID-19 frontline workers

Sugar Hill residents are helping keep local restaurants working while feeding people on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic.

Restaurants in metro Atlanta and across the country have been ordered to shut their dining rooms to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Those that remain open, like Daddy O’Brien’s Irish Ice Cream Pub in Sugar Hill, have had to figure out the best way to pivot, switching to services including takeout, family-style dinners and take-and-cook meals.

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“It’s forced us to add things. We’ve added family meals and added online ordering. We added another third-party delivery service,” said Lori O’Brien, the restaurant’s owner. “We’ve modified as needed.”

But another new source of income has been large orders from regular customers and groups of neighbors looking to feed those helping combat the virus.

At Daddy O’Brien’s, a loyal customer started doing just that. Tim Cooper, a Sugar Hill resident who’s known O’Brien and her husband since before they started the restaurant, started out buying 100 servings of their homemade ice cream and giving it to local emergency medical services workers and Suwanee police officers. When he was looking for another place to donate ice cream from the restaurant, O’Brien suggested the retirement home where her mother lives. O’Brien hadn’t been able to see her mother for weeks, as the elderly are at higher risk for catching coronavirus, and she thought some ice cream would cheer up the residents.

When the donation was featured on the local news, more neighbors wanted to do the same. The multiple individual and group donations have paid for ice cream and lunches sent to Northside Hospital employees in Duluth and Cumming and local Publix and Kroger workers. The orders have fed hundreds of people, including 300 alone at the Cumming hospital.

One group making large orders is Wild Timber Cares, formed by residents of the Wild Timber subdivision. Marc Cohen, a Sugar Hill city councilman and Wild Timber resident, says the group has received donations and volunteers from more than a quarter of the neighborhood. Through orders from local restaurants including Daddy O’Brien’s, the subdivision has fed more than 1,100 people, including nurses, sanitation workers, postal workers and grocery clerks.

“When this is all over, hopefully we’ve spent all the money and done all our good and we can move on to the next thing,” Cohen said. “Until this is over, we’re going to do this until the money runs out.”