This week, however, the organization — located in the Blount County community of Louisville, just outside of Knoxville, Tennessee — expanded its mission to include helping its locally owned business colleagues through tough times as well.
With the coronavirus pandemic necessitating stay-at-home orders and mandatory dine-in closures for restaurants across the state, the Leadership Team at Cornerstone saw an opportunity to achieve two objectives: reward employees with comfort food prepared locally, and help local eating establishments get through the economic downturn caused by COVID-19. On Tuesday, Cornerstone staff members were treated to 125 lunch platters from Sweet P’s BBQ and Soul House, co-owned by cousins Chris and Jonathan Ford and an East Tennessee barbecue staple since 2005.
“It’s something that helps keep our doors open, for sure,” Chris Ford says. “The great thing about catering, even when it’s not a pandemic, is that it’s something you can depend on. It’s a reason to open the doors and have people come to work, and any time you can get a ‘guarantee’ of that in this sort of business atmosphere, it’s the best thing we could have.”
Like many local eateries, the Fords have been forced to take drastic measures in order to stay afloat. Both the Sweet P’s catering service and the Soul House location — located on Old Maryville Pike in South Knoxville, not far from Cornerstone — have been temporarily shuttered due to the coronavirus, Ford says. The entire operation now operates out of Sweet P’s Downtown Dive in Knoxville, where roughly half of the staff was let go. While curbside and delivery orders have helped the business stay afloat, larger catering orders like the one placed by Cornerstone have made a huge difference, he says.
“If I know that every day, somebody or some company is going to spend enough money to keep the lights on, it takes a lot of the worry out of it,” he says. “This week, we had both Cornerstone and Costco, and I think some other companies that have to keep employees working are finding us as well.”
A win-win for Cornerstone and the community
For Cornerstone, the opportunity to bring in a catered lunch from Sweet P’s was another way of showing appreciation for the facility’s staff members who work diligently to keep the drug and alcohol treatment center open, despite the threat of COVID-19. Strict admission pre-screening measures have been implemented, as have rigorous cleaning and sanitation methods at both Cornerstone and its sister facility, Stepping Stone to Recovery, in order to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 to the patient population.
In addition, Cornerstone recently announced a $2 per hour raise for all employees who work daily with patients. That increase, combined with a regular “Comfort Food Day” that seeks to source meals from local restaurateurs, is another means through which Cornerstone seeks to be both a good steward of its employees and a good corporate neighbor of East Tennessee’s restaurants and caterers.
“I think it is important to reward those dedicated to serving patients as well as helping our local community in their time of need,” says Cornerstone CEO Steve McGrew. “Our priority is the patients who come to us for help, even during a time of crisis like COVID-19. We believe very strong that our mission here is critical, because while the coronavirus is a very serious health threat, so too is the disease of addiction, which kills tens of thousands of people every year.
“If we can reward our employees for helping us stay the course during this time, while putting some money into the local economy by helping other small businesses stay afloat, then I don’t think we can ask for a better scenario in which we can help others — addicts who need treatment, and local businesses that are working hard to keep their doors open.”
“You can really work yourself up thinking about it and stressing about it, but these kinds of things are really neat,” Ford adds. “People are trying to take care of people, and when you get these jobs, you see how a company like Cornerstone is taking care of its people, but also taking care of other people in town. And that’s a nice, full-circle thing to see.”