When the spread of the coronavirus and preceding shelter-in-place order shut down schools throughout the Bay Area, Choicelunch -- a school lunch delivery company -- had their typical business prospects reduced.
In order to help provide the community with an essential service and keep the company operating, the Danville-based Choicelunch has pivoted toward offering a drive-thru grocery pickup service for residents with its Choicelunch Pantry.
“Almost everyone had stockpiled groceries prior to the shelter-in-place order, but we knew we were all going to be in it for the long haul,” Justin Gagnon, Choicelunch co-founder and CEO, said in a statement.
“We saw the frenzy and stockouts in the grocery stores, but knew that our foodservice distribution partners had excessive capacity from restaurants and foodservice businesses slowing down and even shutting completely. We wanted to find a way to reliably get the products our community needed into the hands our residents,” he added.
Company officials said prior to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, Choicelunch typically served school lunches to approximately 25,000 kids per day, and while those supplies are no longer in use by schools, Choicelunch's focus has been shifted to provide supplies for the community.
Customers must order online at least two days prior to their scheduled pickup, and can choose from a variety of food items such as a gallon milk, a dozen eggs, fresh produce, a 10-pound family pack of fresh ground beef, as well as a salmon and shrimp or salmon and halibut family pack.
The pantry is also stocked with fresh-baked bread from Roma Bakery, a 117-year-old family-owned bakery based in San Jose that Gagnon previously knew of.
“After I started building the ordering platform, I saw a Facebook post from a good friend of mine in Danville (Jason Pera) whose parents own Roma Bakery. Jason’s mom was standing outside (a) strip mall selling loaves of bread on a folding table,” Gagnon said. “People were saying ‘I’m happy to make a run down there for all of us! I’ll take orders!’ I knew there was a way I could help a friend’s family and bring Roma Bakery to all of Danville, so I ran with it."
When it came to making the pantry operational, Gagnon himself built an online ordering platform for the concept, while his partners Keith Cosbey and Ryan Mariotti, worked on sourcing ingredients for the online store from foodservice distributors.
According to Choicelunch staff Gagnon’s mom, Mary Gagnon, and sister, Robbie Anderson, also got involved by sewing protective masks for employees to wear due to a shortage of N95 protective masks in local markets.
Gagnon says the real motivation behind the Choicelunch Pantry is to help the community in a difficult time, providing groceries in a safe manner that adheres to social distancing.
“My wife loves the saying ‘do the next right thing’, and I’m a big believer that in times of crisis, that’s really all any of us can do,” he said. “This is more of a community service than anything. Many of our neighbors are nervous about going to the grocery store or frustrated that when they do go, staple ingredients are often out of stock.
"My own brother couldn’t believe we could get eggs. Our goal right now is to help our community by getting food safely to our neighbors, and help our people by keeping as many of them working as possible," he added.
Choicelunch Pantry is now accepting online orders available for drive-through pickup in the Choicelunch Danville kitchen, 569 San Ramon Valley Blvd, four days a week, Tuesday through Friday.