As belts tighten and the state is under a stay-at-home order because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, the management and staff members at LongHorn Steakhouse in Pickerington were among those extending a helping hand.

From March 23 to 26, LongHorn, 1740 Hill Road N., gave away 225 hot meals to anyone who called in to pick them up between 2 and 4 p.m.

The restaurant gave away another 30 meals – 6-ounce steak salads for adults and steak and broccoli or fruit for children – April 1.

For some, like Michelle Jude of Pickerington, the help was welcomed at a time when her family’s life had been upended by the economic downturn attributed to the pandemic.

“My husband is a truck driver, and he’s been out of work for a couple weeks now,” Jude said. “This is helping out tremendously.

“There’s four of us – my kids, my husband, myself. I think it’s absolutely amazing that they’re doing this for the community.”

The Rev. Charles Newman, a Pickerington resident and pastor at Antioch Baptist Church in Columbus, picked up meals to deliver to a Pickerington family in need.

“There’s six of them – four kids, two adults – and the mom was a substitute cafeteria worker,” Newman said. “So she’s completely off work.

“I took it upon myself to make sure they had a good meal, something different.”

Newman thanked the city of Pickerington for promoting the food giveaway via its Facebook page and the LongHorn employees, who he called “a blessing in this time of need.”

LongHorn service manager Ann Driza said the Pickerington restaurant has been maintaining carryout service during the stay-at-home order. It has able to do so because the state has deemed restaurants an “essential” business, and carryout and delivery were not prohibited when Gov. Mike DeWine closed all restaurant dining rooms March 15.

Driza pitched the food giveaway to LongHorn manager Robyn Bromwell to make the best of a bad situation and help friends and neighbors in need.

With the ban on dining in at restaurants and reduced hours forcing layoffs of nearly 100 employees, the restaurant was facing a large food surplus the week of March 23.

“I didn’t want that food to go to waste, and I wanted to help the community,” said Driza, a Pickerington resident. “We wanted to do something to donate to the community, to people who are having a really hard time, to make their time a little bit easier and bring them some joy.

“I live here in Pickerington, and it’s important to take care of our community.”

LongHorn is a division of Darden Restaurants. The parent company has a Harvest Program through which all 1,600 Darden restaurants nationwide cook, freeze and donate surplus food items to local food banks.

John Espy, director of operations for LongHorn’s Columbus region, said when he heard what Driza and her coworkers were doing in Pickerington, he was “all in.”

Just as the food giveaways were providing important help, he hoped the restaurant industry would be able to be sustained through the pandemic, he said.

“It’s not the most ideal environment, but we’re fortunate to have the support of our company to, hopefully, weather the storm,” Espy said. “To say we’re treading water is probably a nice way to put it, but we’re trying to be an integral part of the service.

“If restaurants shut down, think about what would really happen at grocery stores. It would be really, really difficult.”

One of the people on hand April 1 was there to pass on LongHorn’s assistance to others on the front lines of the pandemic.

“This is going to some people in the community who really deserve it,” said Randall Risher, who explained he was picking up lunches for his daughter-in-law and son-in-law, both of whom are working extended hours at a local grocery store.

“They’re working a lot of hours, and they couldn’t run out and get it,” Risher said. “They’re due home at 2:15 today, and my wife wanted to surprise them.”