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Jenna Arcidiacono used her local celebrity chef status to help others during the pandemic.
Arcidiacono, who has been featured on the Food Network and is the owner of Amore Trattoria Italiana in Comstock Park, saw her own business and others struggling as COVID-19 struck.
This led Jenna to create “Food Hugs” to help as many people in need as possible. In addition to handing out meals to frontline workers, she has also provided meals for many people who lost loved ones to COVID-19 at no cost to them. She was featured by nearly every local TV station, print and online media outlet, and even made national news when she was nominated by a local fan to be featured on celebrity entertainer, Mike Rowe's Facebook show, "Returning the Favor," through which she received $10,000 to continue feeding frontline workers.
Jenna did this while simultaneously working to reinvent her own business to survive in a time when many restaurants have had to close.
“My husband and I watched while Italy slowly shut down in early 2020; we knew that we may be next,” said Jenna, who quickly pivoted and flipped her restaurant into a take-out establishment overnight. “I began to notice tired and scared faces while passing out orders in our parking lot, so I decided to start bringing meals to the local frontline workers.”
Throughout the pandemic, many restaurants have limited their hours of operation or only offered takeout options. Because of this, many people in the service industry have struggled to make ends meet, as they haven’t made as much in tips. Jenna began asking for $5 donations and created an initiative called Tip-Back Thursday, where they would use the donations of the week and surprise a local place with a minimum of $1,000 tip. Thus far, they have supported 47 restaurants and given over $49,000 in tips to places who are still struggling to get by.
“It was tough to see places suffer, close for good and see morale so low. If there was any way to spread joy in this difficult time, I wanted to try to help do that. It’s amazing what a surprise home cooked meal or a few extra bucks can do to change someone’s day,” said Jenna.
Despite being incredibly busy with her personal volunteer efforts and her restaurant, Jenna also finds time to help at Laugh Fest for Gilda’s Club, Make-A-Wish for kids who aspire to be chefs, Chef Auction for March of Dimes, and I Understand Love Heals, which discusses mental health and suicide prevention.
Even while having her own business during a time of uncertainty, Jenna put her community members first through her initiatives.