By TIM ROWDEN
North St. Louis County – Crises have a way of bringing out the best in people. When all the world seams bleakest, there are always quiet heroes who step forward.
Gerald (Pee Wee) Johnson, owner of Déjà Vu Café II and the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU) are some of those heroes.
Johnson, whose business is currently closed to walk-in customers due to the COVID-19 restrictions, wanted to do something to help the North St. Louis County community that has been so supportive of him over the years. So he reached out to his good friend, Lew Moye, veteran Labor activist and president emeritus of the CBTU St. Louis Chapter, and they developed a plan to provide meals to the frontline workers who are taking care of all of us during this crisis.
They started with the emergency room nurses doctors at Christian Northeast Hospital on Dunn Road, and delivered meals to union bus drivers at the Metro Transit’s North County Transit Center on Pershall Rd. in Ferguson.
Then, they reached out to United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 655 Union Representative Theresa Hester, who helped arrange a delivery for employees at the Grandview Plaza Schnucks store in Florissant.
On Friday, April 17, Johnson, Moye (UAW Local 110) and CBTU Treasurer Reggie Cavitt (ATU Local 788) pulled up out front with vanload of hot fish and chicken dinners to tell the grocery workers thank you for all they are doing.
“To me, they are the first responders there on the frontline,” Moye said of the grocery workers. “They’ve got to be there or we wouldn’t have any food or any essentials.”
‘AT A TIME LIKE THIS’
“I think Déjà Vu just really wanted to help in the community and see what they could do,” Hester said.
“At a time like this, other people are doing stuff, and they just wanted to see if they can help in any way. They store manager was just ecstatic to see the employees, the essential workers – and if the Governor does the right thing they’ll be first responders – being recognized. Because without food, how can you survive? You’ve got to eat.”
‘SUPPORTING THE PEOPLE THAT HAVE SUPPORTED ME’
“I just decided to do it because we weren’t getting a lot of attention here in north county. So I decided to go out and feed some of the first responders, the doctors and nurses at Christian Northeast, the bus drivers and the people working here at Schnucks,” Johnson said.
I’ve got one more place I want to go, to Feed My People here in North County. It’s to let them know we’re thinking about them too.
“I live North County, I have a business in North County. So I decided, to do something for the first responders, people that are on the frontline here in North County. I’m supporting the people that have been supporting me in what I’ve been doing. I haven’t asked for any donations. I’m thanking them for being behind me.”
‘WE COULDN’T GET THROUGH THIS WITHOUT THEM’
Cavitt said it’s all about taking care of people on the front line.
“We did the bus drivers, and we’re going to do them again,” Cavitt said.
“We did the nurses and doctors at Christian Northeast, and we’re doing them again. And we wanted to do the grocery workers because we couldn’t get through this without them on the front line.”
‘THE COMMUNITY HAS BEEN EXCELLENT’
At the Grandview Plaza Schnucks, the smell of hot chicken and fish dinners filled the breakroom.
“This is fantastic,” Local 655 Shop Steward Jason Calascibetta said. “The community has been excellent here, donating whatever they can to help out. It’s stressful, but we’re getting used to it, and we’re getting by.”
Continuing to work and dealing with the public during the COVID-19 pandemic has been stressful, Customer Service Manager Monica Jay said, but everyone keeps showing up.
“It’s a stressful time, she said. “But people still need their paycheck. They still come to work, they’ve been faithful, and they’ve really stepped up. We’re a family. None of us could do it on our own and our team has really stepped up and pulled together during this time.
“We have a really great in-store manager (Tina Robenstine) and she has worked to provide us lunch and snacks a lot. But this is a really a treat,” Jay said. “We don’t usually get something this nice.”