By simply buying a T-shirt proclaiming pride in Philadelphia, you can now help feed a family – and just in time for Father’s Day. The words “We Are Philly” are emblazoned on T-shirts offered in red, blue, green and orange – meant to convey the message of unity in Philly pro sports team’s colors and as a reminder that although games aren’t happening, we are…(well, you get the picture.)
Restaurateur Rob Wasserman and his wife, Maggie, came up with the idea one day not long after everyone was told to quarantine and they were forced to close Rouge, Twenty Manning, Audrey Claire and Snap Custom Pizza, where Wasserman is a partner.
“I always jot down ideas, and I had jotted down ‘We Are Philly’ several years ago. I said, ‘Why don’t we create a T-shirt we can sell that would give us an opportunity to donate back?”
That’s when he called up his friend Marcello Giordano of Giordano Garden Groceries in South Philly. Giordano agreed to help supply the food care packages: A fresh produce box valued at $18 filled with a half-gallon of milk, two tomatoes, a cucumber, four potatoes, two lemons, one head of iceberg lettuce, a dozen eggs, three lbs. of bananas and a loaf of sliced bread.
Joanna Otero-Cruz is Deputy Managing Director of Community Services for the city. She helps organize food collection from Giordano’s Groceries and distributes the care packages to 40 sites throughout the city. The city-supported sites were set up as a response to Covid-19 when the existing food pantry system experienced declines in food donations and fewer volunteers showed up because of the pandemic.
“A lot of volunteers happened to be older individuals and so they definitely fell in that category of the most at-risk population. As a result, we did see a number of pantries close,” said Otero-Cruz.
Thus far, the “We Are Philly” program has already sold more than 3,420 shirts and estimates to make 500 deliveries a week. The cost is $25 per shirt and includes shipping.
Wasserman said he started by buying 50 shirts, handing them out for free and asking friends to spread the word about his new venture.
“It’s mind-blowing… The fact that everybody wants to help out now. Everybody wants to play their part. I know so many people. It doesn’t matter what field you’re in. Everybody feels so bad about what’s happening [with Covid-19] and I think this was a simple, easy focal point… And the statement ‘We Are Philly’ I think speaks very loudly to us Philadelphians and the pride we take in our city,” he said.
Last month, Mayor Jim Kenney recognized “We Are Philly” during one of his daily press briefings, lauding it for selling more than 2,000 T-shirts resulting in 2,000 fresh food box donations.
Many also know Wasserman as the creator of the Philadelphia Burger Brawl, where burger joints compete for the honor of winner of the tastiest burger judged by journalists and media-types (yours truly was a judge last year). Proceeds from tickets sold benefit the School District of Philadelphia. (Because of Covid-19, this year’s competition is canceled.)
Wasserman’s restaurants have also taken a financial hit. Rouge, Twenty Manning and Audrey Claire are doing take-out, and the quick-serve shop Snap Custom Pizza offers take-out and delivery, but like everyone in the hospitality industry today, the future of returning to fully operational – and fully sustainable – is unclear.
“Let’s be honest – Covid has sent everybody into a tailspin,” he said.
“I don’t care what level of business you’re in, it’s been a dramatic wake-up call in the sense of bringing a screeching halt to your business operations and that’s something we’ve felt for the last several months. Everything is affected and it’s just been really scary. You’re going one direction one day and then absolutely stopped the next.”
Asked whether he expects to reopen to full capacity, he said it depends on multiple factors, including cooperation with landlords, employees willing to come back to work after having receiving unemployment benefits and vendors’ ability to supply like they once did.
“I know, for myself, cash flow is king, especially in the restaurant industry… And having basically your limbs cut off and getting yourself set up again is hard. I hope we can pull through it.”