Erie County residents and restaurants partner on Facebook during coronavirus shutdowns 

The Erie County restaurant Facebook group (Source: Facebook screen capture)

ERIE, Pa. — One Erie man’s idea to maintain a sense of normalcy in unprecedented times and support local restaurants exploded overnight as hundreds of Erie County residents and businesses joined his Facebook group to support and industry that’s been dealt a body blow by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brian Waller, who works in the service industry, said he found himself out of work when Gov. Tom Wolf ordered non-essential businesses across the state to close on March 16. 

 “So, I wasn’t doing much. I also do GrubHub delivery and I was wondering, ‘Okay, what places are going to be open?’ And as I was thinking that, I thought, ‘Ya know, other people might like to know that, too, so maybe get a group started where restaurants could post what they’re doing in this situation.’”

And with that the Facebook group,“Erie County PA Take Out/Delivery 2020” was born. 

At first, Waller said, he invited “four or five people … the next day it was in the hundreds and then the thousands.”

At the time of Waller’s March 23 interview with the Capital-Star, the group had more than 16,000 members. That number has since risen to 18,859.

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Many members also work for GrubHub, DoorDash or UberEats, Waller said. “They’ve been very helpful … answering questions from people about how these platforms work and whether they’re available in certain areas, helping people get started on them.” 

In a few instances, people have been willing to work out arrangements to deliver take out food to their community members who don’t or can’t leave their homes. 

“One of the things I feel that families have always done for one reason or another is eat out,” Waller explained. “Now, we may not be able to go sit in a dining room and have a family meal or get together like we used to, but we can still enjoy the things that we like, the things that make us comfortable, that make this whole situation a little more bearable.”

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The page was created also with those still working — such as healthcare and grocery store employees — in mind. By searching through the page’s photos, one can easily tell what restaurants are still open and serving. 

Many restaurants in Erie County have been financially wounded by closing their dining rooms last week. Some do not have the business to afford a skeleton crew — or bare minimum employees — to run the kitchens and provide take out options. 

Of the restaurants that are still open, “Most are enforcing some kind of social distancing, whether it’s only allowing a few in the restaurant at a time, many are bringing the orders out to the car so you don’t have to go in, and everybody I’ve seen is wearing gloves,” Waller, who isn’t delivering this week himself but has gotten take out at local sports bar Odis 12, said. “(They’re) doing their best to not only keep us fed, but doing their best to keep this from spreading as well.”

The Facebook group has already received attention from local news sources and member numbers still grow as the city settles into its second week of COVID-19 shutdowns. 

Those in the area can easily become members of the public group and search to find the menus, hours, and news from their favorite restaurants from the comfort of home.

Correspondent Hannah McDonald covers Erie and northwestern Pennsylvania for the Capital-Star. Follow her on Twitter @HannahMcD0nald.