There is no question that COVID-19 has had a tremendous effect on nearly everyone’s daily lives. While this pandemic has presented many obstacles, it has had an even more significant impact on our disadvantaged communities, specifically children who depend on free public-school lunches. Lou Ginocchio, owner of O Pie O, saw this problem and decided to act. Starting March 15th, Lou and his team at O Pie O have been providing free lunches to school aged children. Each lunch provides half a hand pie, one piece of fruit, and half of a slice of sweet pie. “We have access to food, and we have access to fruit. We knew we could do something if we rolled up our sleeves and devoted our efforts, resources, and access to food,” says Lou, who founded O Pie O in 2015.
Since March 15, 2020, Lou and his team have provided over 500 lunches/week. The free lunch events were originally held at O Pie O’s bakehouse location in Lower Price Hill and their restaurant location in East Walnut Hills, however, with the help of volunteers, they have also been able to distribute lunches in West Price Hill, Finneytown, and East Price Hill, with even more volunteers personally delivering lunches to families in need. Lou states that, “these volunteers have been amazing, and we couldn’t do this without them. We can make the lunches, but we need help distributing them. Thankfully, brave souls have stepped up.”
The Ginocchio family is no stranger to Santa Maria! Lou’s grandfather was one of the people involved with Santa Maria in the early part of the 20th century when we served Italian immigrants in Cincinnati. Lou and O Pie O have been a great partner to Santa Maria. In addition, his father, Lou Sr., and his siblings have been supporters and/or on our board for many years.
O Pie O originally opened for business in 2015 at Findlay market, and has since provided jobs to many people in the Greater Cincinnati Area. The business quickly grew, and their first brick & mortar location opened in East Walnut Hills in 2017. Last summer, O Pie O opened an additional location, a bakehouse, in Lower Price Hill. Santa Maria Community Services began partnering with O Pie O through the Work Experience Program that is part of Santa Maria’s Comprehensive Case Management and Employment Program’s (CCMEP).
O Pie O has since hired on two CCMEP youth in permanent positions. Both youths have expressed how much they enjoy working at O Pie O and how supported they feel by the owners and their coworkers.
O Pie O’s support for their employees provided a second reason why Lou and his team began the free lunch events. He further explains, “our revenue streams started to dry up and we were looking at a near term future where we were going to have to lay off quite a few employees. We were determined to do whatever we could to preserve as many jobs as we could. Our employees are like family with families of their own. We were going to do whatever we could to keep as many of them employed as possible.”
Such a generous act of kindness from O Pie O has not only helped make sure children in our communities have a meal to eat, but it has also allowed them the ability to help employees maintain their jobs, and their livelihoods. However, as the program grows, O Pie O has been presented with an obstacle. “Frankly,” Lou says, “we are running out of funds to continue the program. We have enough money to keep going for another week…The donations flowed in the first few days, but as the shutdown continues and the economy worsens, we fear people won’t be able to afford to be so generous.”
O Pie O has depended largely on donations to make this free lunch event possible. In other words, “with people’s financial help we are able to keep employing people to make lunches for kids who would otherwise go hungry. The public’s donations are feeding kids and saving jobs.”
Please consider donating to Santa Maria Community Services so that we can do our part in supporting families while O Pie O is doing theirs.