Charlie's BBQ & Bakery owner Elizabeth St. Clair was watching an episode of "The Prophet" on CNBC when host Marcus Lemonis discussed a food-for-people-in-need program back in November. She decided to see if it was something her restaurant could get involved with.
As part of the Plating Change program, Lemonis buys meals from restaurants which then give them to people in need. He bought 700 meals at $10 each in November and December from Charlie's, in addition to other eateries in other parts of the country.
St. Clair said that $7,000 went a long way towards keeping Charlie's in business and when it ended, Lemonis suggested she continue it on her own, perhaps by enlisting Chattanoogans and others to participate. Since December, Charlie's has served 1,100 additional meals in an ongoing effort the business is calling The Tennessee Shuffle.
"We hope to serve 20,000 by the end of the year," St. Clair said.
Charlie's General Manager Patrick Hook said a lot of people think about helping people in need around the holidays, but the need is there year-round.
"We wanted to continue this," he said.
St. Clair said that every Wednesday and Thursday, Charlie's prepares 100 meals a day during the afternoon when the restaurant is less busy and delivers them to seniors at the Mary Walker and Boynton Terrace towers, respectively. Charlie's also delivered 200 meals purchased by an individual to the Community Kitchen.
The meals include baked beans, coleslaw, a cookie and a pulled pork sandwich (or chicken for those who don't eat pork).
St. Clair said the program has been a benefit for the restaurant as well as the community.
"I don't say this bragging, but we are fairly popular. But, we are down about 60% from where we should be, but we are still open and doing OK. Our costs have gone up astronomically. If we are struggling during this, I can only imagine how tough some other restaurants are having it.
She also knows that Charlie's and this program are not the only ones helping people. People locally and all over the country have stepped up by either paying it forward, as 900 people in Brainerd, Minnesota, did at a Dairy Queen in December, or hundreds of people in Chattanooga have done over the past several months, making donations to local charities or individually, as restaurant owner Diamound Brown does weekly via her Chatty's Restaurant in Avondale.
Such programs can help the restaurants and the people who are hungry.
"This is nothing new, but this program is not only feeding us, it is feeding members of the community," she said.
She said people can contribute by calling the restaurant and buying any number of meals.
"Or, they can buy one when they come in to get their own meal, or they can Venmo us @charlieschattanooga."
Donors can stipulate where the meals go.