What does it mean to be a hero?
Does is it require a cape and underwear worn on the outside? Must you leap tall buildings in a single bound, or slay scaly, fire-breathing dragons?
If that’s the case, then few need apply.
“But maybe,” says Jeff Mease, ’84, channeling his inner David Bowie, “we can all be heroes?”
Mease, along with Helen “Lennie” Busch, BS’82, leads One World Enterprises—a Bloomington, Ind.-based consortium that includes Pizza X, Lennie’s, Bloomington Brewing Company, One World Catering, and Hive. Together, they’ve slain pandemic-induced fears with family meals.
In early 2020, as the COVID-19 crisis began to take shape, Mease and his team considered potential shutdown scenarios.
“By the Saturday of the beginning of spring break, we shut our doors, and the following Monday, we basically laid off the majority of our staff,” recalls Lynn Schwartzberg, BA’81, general manager of One World Catering.
With more than 100 of his employees out of work, Mease’s focus shifted. “Well, we’ve got freezers full of food, so why don’t we make a family meal every day for our people?”
Most, if not all, food-service professionals in the Bloomington-area were also facing unemployment.
“But [then] you’re realizing it’s [also] the event people, it’s the gal who owns these little art galleries, it’s the guy who’s used to playing in the jazz trio every Wednesday,” Mease says, explaining how the meal program quickly became a citywide outreach.
When OWE needed more food, local restaurants and suppliers—including Red Frazier Bison Ranch, Nick’s English Hut, Darn Good Soup, and the Uptown Cafe—stepped up.
“[They’d bring us] fresh ricotta, mozzarella, lots of dairy products, eggs like crazy,” Schwartzberg says. “We had a local grower bring us some beautiful greens. Once people knew what we were doing, it motivated them to say, ‘Hey, I’ve got this, and I know I can’t sell it. So, I’ll bring it over there.’”
Between March and May, OWE was able to serve more than 10,000 meals. Mease’s crew also delivered food to area hospitals, providing hot meals to first responders.
Feeding the community met more than just financial and nutritional needs, says Laura Burnett, BS’14, the furloughed wedding coordinator at One World Catering. “It helped maintain social bonds.”
“Not being able to interact, that’s been really difficult, so for some people, it’s a little highlight of their day,” she says. “They’re cooped up at home, nothing to do, and it’s a little bit of excitement to take a drive, pick up a nice meal, and then go home and enjoy it with family and friends.”
“Through tough times, like this pandemic,” Burnett adds, “people look to pillars of their community for leadership, guidance, and help. [These family meals are] what we can do. It doesn’t make sense for us to sit around and do nothing. That’s just not the One World way.”
Jeff Mease, Lennie Busch, Lynn Schwartzberg, and Laura Burnett are among the many IU alumni who have joined in the fight against COVID-19. This story series is our way of recognizing those who are going above and beyond during this health crisis. To us, they are nothing short of heroes.