Photo by Joe Boyle
Representatives of Park Lawn met and thanked owners of the Country House Restaurant in Alsip on Friday for providing meals for the community and their organization. On hand for the event were (from left) Steve Manning, executive director of the Park Lawn Association; Dave Fussell, one of the Country House owners; Nancy Schmitz, director of development of Park Lawn; and Paul Boundas, owner of the Country House.
By Joe Boyle
Acts of kindness have been an encouragement for officials at Park Lawn despite the obstacles posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Park Lawn is a non-profit organization which has a school and activity center at 10833 S. Laporte Ave., Oak Lawn. They offer a variety of programs and services for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Park Lawn ’s mission is to provide services that promote independence, choice, and access to community living for their clients.
The COVID-19 pandemic has temporarily closed operations at Park Lawn but representatives and board members have said that residents, community organizations and local businesses have reached out to help.
Representatives at Park Lawn on May 15 wanted to show their appreciation by visiting the owners and staff at the Country House Restaurant, 5400 W. 127th St., Alsip, who have been providing meals for seniors, veterans and other people in need. Park Lawn officials were appreciative that Country House staff has been delivering food for clients of Park Lawn who live in Community Integrated Living Arrangement (CILA) residences.
"You have been very generous for the whole community and you have been very generous to Park Lawn," said Nancy Schmitz, director of development at Park Lawn, during the visit to the restaurant.
Paul Boundas, one of the owners of Country House, and staff members have been providing free meals for seniors, veterans and people in need after the stay-at-home directive was made by Gov. J.B. Pritzker in March.
Schmitz was joined by Steve Manning, executive director of the Park Lawn Association, and marketing director Mark Dynia. They had an opportunity to meet Boundas and David Fussell, one of his partners, to thank them for supplying food for residents of CILA homes.
"When we could no longer keep the restaurant open, I just said we have to do something," said Boundas. "We talked about it and decided this is what we should do. A lot of people have been coming here for years and I thought we should give back. It was better than just doing nothing. And people have been so appreciative. We are just going to keep doing this."
Since the restaurant closed to the public, Boundas estimates that they have delivered nearly 100,000 meals to local organizations. The owners stated that they prepare about 2,500 meals a day.
"We have delivered to schools like Elim, Mother McAuley, Marist, Moraine Valley, St. Xavier and Catholic schools throughout the area," Boundas said.
When word spread what the owners and staff at Country House were doing, many organizations and individuals ordered meals for schools and various organizations, Boundas said.
Boundas and Fussell decided to keep their staff working during the pandemic. The owners said that no employees have been let go during the crisis. They have been assisting in preparing meals for delivery and were hard at work on Friday morning.
"We have a lot to do, but we are glad to do it," said employee Kathi Espinoza, who was working with other people on staff to package the meals in containers for delivery.
Boundas and Fussell put up some of their own money, along with a GoFundMe page to attract sponsors to assist them with meal donations. Both owners added that the community has been very generous and that has allowed them to continue delivering meals.
Fussell was eager to participate. He is a graduate of Marist High School and did his service hours at Park Lawn during his senior year. Marist High School students have been assisting at Park Lawn dating back to the 1970s, according to Schmitz.
"When Paul brought this idea up, it took us about three seconds to decide," recalled Fussell with a laugh. "It was his brainchild but we wanted to help. And helping Park Lawn was something I wanted to do. I have great memories of working there when I was a senior."
Manning was also appreciative of the gesture by the owners of Country House and their support of Park Lawn.
"It's not just Park Lawn because we are all in this together," Manning said. "We can't just say enough about the management at the Country House for what they have done. In times like this what they are doing is important. We are grateful for what you have done for us and every one who needs a meal."
Boundas said that providing the meals has been an eye opener.
"You find out there are a lot of people out there right in your own backyard that need help," Boundas said. "A lot of them are poor and others have mental issues. And many of them are veterans who need help. Some people have come up and asked us for food. We have given it to them, no questions asked."
Park Lawn has been in operation since 1955. Schmitz is not sure when the doors will open at Park Lawn due to the shelter in place orders and safety concerns, but they are delighted with community organizations who have provided support and aid. And their visit to Country House was done to specifically thank the owners for providing meals at the CILA residences.
"We just wanted to thank them for providing the meals," Schmitz said. "People have been very giving and the Country House has been wonderful."
As for the Country House owners and staff, they plan on providing meals for those who need it as long as they can sustain the effort.
"We are just going to keep doing this until they say we can get back to work," added Fussell.