by Dawn Mitchell
NACE Board Member
When a government shelter in place order halted weddings in Spring 2020, it disrupted small local businesses like John Serock Catering in West Chester among many in the events industry. Typically, spring signals ramping up the business to prepare for the start of a busy wedding season. Instead, it temporarily shut down and moved booked dates.
However, it was an ordinary family dinner conversation for Owner & CEO John Serock in March that brought clarity and a higher purpose despite uncertain times.
“I was having dinner with my kids and the normal argument over ‘finish your meal because there are kids that don’t know where their next meal is coming from’ really stuck in my head,” said Serock, a NACE Philadelphia/S.Jersey/Delaware member, who opened his catering business in 2000.
From this ordinary parent-child discussion emerged WC Cares, a program to combat food insecurity in the West Chester Area School District. According to the WC Cares site, close to 1800 students (16% of the student population) rely on the district’s free or reduced lunch program. Serock then made a call to his child’s school principal who put him in touch with social workers for the district and from that outreach, West Chester Cares began.
Here’s how it worked: For every meal (feeding 4-5 people) purchased, John Serock Catering donated a meal to a family in need within the school district; very much like buy one, get one free. Meal choices that were polled on social media for a favorite selection resulted in family meals such as three pounds of Slow Smoked Pulled BBQ Chicken, including half of a pan of mac and cheese, a favorite for adults and children alike, cole slaw and brioche slider rolls. Or a five-pound Lasagna, family size salad and loaf of Italian Bread, for example.
The response was amazing, greatly impacting the community. “We sold over 1,100 family meals and in addition received a ton of private donations,” Serock said. “We were able to donate over 1,500 Family meals which provided more than 7,500 individual meals,” he said.
Originally, the concept was a one-time outreach but that quickly changed following a couple encounters. “After the first distribution to the families, I realized we HAD to keep going,” Serock said. A couple of poignant moments changed the course of the endeavor. Serock recalls a mother, when picking up her meal asked for his business card, adding that when she got back on her feet, she was going to place an order to pay back the generosity. Another woman left a thank you card in which she explained that “as a grandmother raising 3 teenage boys, these meals not only provided nourishment but also hope that there is always someone watching your back.” These interactions impacted Serock, who said although he’s donated throughout the year to The Chester County Food Bank, he wanted to make a larger impact on folks right in his neighborhood. Yet, he attributes WC Cares’ success to the support of clients within the community.
“Our clients in the Greater West Chester area have always been extremely supportive of our business,” Serock said. In fact, an overwhelming amount of clients asked how they how they could help him stay in business when everything first shut down. “People wanted to help so why not channel that energy and make it a partnership between us and fellow residents. While there were many programs in place to provide families with groceries, we wanted to provide a complete meal so parents could have at least one night where they didn’t have to worry about how they were going to feed their family.”
One client, McCollum Insurance Agency, of Newtown Square and Philadelphia recalls their experience in a note on social media: “Thank you to our clients. We find joy in giving back to our community, and we couldn’t do this without the loyalty of our clients during this uncertain time. So, THANK YOU. Yesterday, we delivered lunch to The Broomall Rehabilitation and Nursing Center. We delivered 80 lunches to the nursing home staff and PA National Guard Medical Team, who is currently assisting the nursing home in these challenging days.
Thank you to our friends John Serock Catering for preparing the delicious food and for the great service. Stay safe and healthy.”
Serock simply asked to help a neighbor in need. And that’s what they did.