This is a printer-friendly version of an article from

06/24/2020 08:30 AM

Valley Businesses Get Creative to Give Back

After the COVID-19 pandemic forced many local businesses to close their doors, several are now reopening, or planning to do so, with an eye toward helping others.

The Earth & Fire Art Studio in Essex, Little House Brewing Company in Chester, and Red House Restaurant in Deep River are all taking steps to donate proceeds to a worthy cause.

Art in Essex

At the Earth & Fire Art Studio in Essex, owner Julie Bonilla says the COVID-19 shut down happened in the middle of what was supposed to be a six-week pottery class.

“I had to get creative and figure out how I was going to make it work,” said Bonilla. “After hearing about so many people losing their jobs and the shortages at food banks, I was thinking to not only help myself, but others in the area who needed help as well.”

Bonilla turned to her craft and started making one-of-a kind mugs, with $5 from the sale of each mug donated to the East Haddam Food Bank and the Shoreline Soup Kitchens & Pantries.

“I have five children myself, so whenever there is a crisis, whether a snowstorm or worldwide pandemic, making sure that I can feed my family is really important,” said Bonilla. “So, thinking about families who couldn’t do that or wondering where their next meal was going to come from, that was really important for me to try to help with that.”

The initiative, named the Mad Love, Mug Sale has contributed approximately $1,500 thus far to help feed those in need.

Bonilla recently reopened her shop to the public with the studio operating in a limited capacity.

“It feels so good,” said Bonilla. “My students were like my family. We’d meet and have a good time once a week during our pottery class. It was very quiet in here, so it’s awesome to have people back.”

Cheers in Chester

In Chester, Little House Brewing Company, a brewery and taproom, recently announced a new initiative called The Giving Tap.

“One of our taps is going to permanently become The Giving Tap, where a percentage of all the proceeds from that tap will be donated to a charitable organization,” said Little House co-founder Carlisle Schaeffer.

Each month, the taproom will choose a different charity, and is aiming “to get the community involved in it as well,” said Schaeffer.

Little House typically offers eight varieties of beer, brewed on-site, ranging from lagers and stouts to brown ales, with one guest tap that is a hard cider.

“So, the idea is that it wouldn’t be a specific beer, [but] any beer that pours through that line throughout the month,” said Schaeffer.

This isn’t the tap room’s first project to benefit a charitable organization.

With co-founder Sam Wagner having ties to Minneapolis, the company announced that 10 percent of its sales in a recent week would be donated to organizations based in Minneapolis that focus on racial equality. They include the Black Lives Matter Global Network and West Broadway Business and Area Coalition, and the Northside Funders Group.

Other charities that have been a focus include the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center and the Pink Boots Society, which is an international non-profit that supports women working to create craft beer.

In turn, Schaeffer says he’s grateful for the community’s support throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since March, Little House has been open for contact-free “porch pick-up” and home deliveries. It aims to reopen the tap room and outdoor patio with limited capacity in the near future.

“We’ve been really fortunate, we have a really supportive community,” said Schaeffer. “Everyone in Chester has been supporting restaurants, us, all through the shut down and still even with the [Main Street] construction, people are being supportive.”

Uniting in Deep River

In Deep River, several local businesses are coming together to support The Nest Coffee House, which is operated by A Little Compassion Inc. and geared toward helping young adults with disabilities.

“As a nonprofit and small business, we’ve had to try to be really creative to make it through [the] COVID [pandemic],” said Jane Moen, executive director of A Little Compassion Inc.

At the onset of COVID-19 in Connecticut, The Nest was forced to lay off its workforce, composed of 20 individuals with autism or intellectual and developmental disabilities. The organization started making face masks for children and adults, selling these and other merchandise online with contactless pick-up.

Although The Nest has been able to hire all of its employees back with the help of a federal small business loan through the Payroll Protection Program, operations are still not back to normal.

“Now that we’re serving customers, we’re still doing it differently,” said Moen.

In terms of a full-scale reopening, The Nest plans “to wait until we know that we’re really comfortable with what we are doing right now. I have to say the kids are doing great; it’s a big change,” said Moen.

To help The Nest during this challenging time, Red House Restaurant in Deep River is donating 20 percent of its proceeds to The Nest from pick-up orders on Wednesday, July 1. The food orders, which are being taken starting June 24, must be made in advance by calling the restaurant.

The proceeds will go toward maintaining the nonprofit organization and the cost of online services for The Nest’s social gatherings.

“It’s a fundraiser, but really to me, it’s more about that we’re coming together and that we’re supporting each other,” said Moen. “As a community, we’re sticking together to help us all make it.”

The Red House’s menu will feature a “Nest Burger” on the Deep River Bakery’s 8 Mile Meadow Chedzel roll. Customers will also receive a coupon for a free ice cream cone at The Nest and be entered in a raffle for a pound of Deep River Roasters Coffee.

“We’re really excited to be part of helping another small-town business thrive,” said Marc DeTour, owner of Red House Restaurant in a written statement issued June 11. “We’re looking forward to happy diners in support of our friends at The Nest making a difference right here in our community.”