When the COVID-19 pandemic hit with full force in early March, countless businesses were forced to shut their doors in response to the government-mandated closures. And as a venue providing beautiful weddings for happy couples for the past 40 years, at Crystal Gardens we, too, were affected.

While the Stay Home, Stay Safe order remains in play, and gatherings larger than ten people are still on hold, we have turned our focus to giving back to first responders, in an effort to recognize their resilience and to repay their sacrifices. We’re proud to be known for going above and beyond for all our clients, and have transitioned that element of hospitality for nurses, doctors, and support staff. The free meals movement, called Feeding Our Frontline Heroes, has gathered significant sponsorships and community support and continues to promote and request assistance for our deserving first responders.

Our off-premise catering and entertainment manager DeVonna Snowden explained more about the changes we have faced. “We are in week six of this shutdown, so weddings and events have been canceled. But we quickly realized that we have a kitchen, a staff, a food supplier, and tons of catering supplies and boxes. Let’s see if we can’t give back to our community!”

This charitable attitude, paired with years of catering expertise, made the idea possible in a flash. With a dynamic two-person team (the executive chef and banquet manager), a streamlined boxed lunch process was hastily created to send to local hospital workers most in need of support. The results have been outstanding, with over 1800 boxed lunches being delivered to date!

“We are relying on our front line workers, and these deliveries are a big morale boost and help. It’s a meaningful act from our community,” DeVonna says. The grab-and-go meals have gone to the local hospitals with the biggest need, including St. Joseph Mercy Livingston Hospital, St. Joseph Mercy of Brighton, Ascension of Howell, and more. DeVonna also discussed the amazing generosity of the firefighter and police departments, who told her to direct donations to the hospital workers instead of themselves. “It speaks to the kind of altruistic people who go into these professions. They are selfless,” she adds.

With the changes in traditional social norms, we have adapted to make the most out of every donation. Elegance has turned into efficiency, as we individually package boxed lunches. Each lunch includes a sandwich or salad, bagged chips, and a cookie. Our Executive Culinary Team is also happy to customize any menu to meet specific dietary needs. Social distancing guidelines and delivery without face-to-face interaction are all followed for everyone’s comfort. The door to door system has been honed to perfection and adapted to best serve the essential first responders who are serving the local community.

“While we have been overwhelmed with generous sponsorships, the need for help is still there! We’re accepting donations continuously, and even as we flatten the curve, the call for donations of any kind remains important,” DeVonna says. Her new role has been focused on what she calls dialing for donations, scheduling deliveries in advance so first responders know when to expect free meals, connecting with local charities and rotaries, and being an outreach person for those looking to donate.

It’s certain that everyone is anxious and ready for life to get back on track, yet DeVonna says with a smile that she feels grateful to be paying it forward during the pandemic. “It’s been a step back from our normal business. It’s a time of just helping others and doing the right thing. I feel so fortunate to help in this little way and make a difference.”

At Crystal Gardens, we are looking forward to reopening as soon as it’s safe to do so, and will be continuing our free meals initiative as long as the community support is there. The complete information is available online as well through our donate button, and every donation truly matters. “Even if you don’t donate to our cause, please find somewhere that speaks to you,” DeVonna recommends. “Any amount of help is so greatly appreciated by those who need it most.”

We would like to publicly thank our outstanding sponsors:

  • Brighton Chamber of Commerce
  • Hartland Chamber of Commerce
  • Howell Chamber of Commerce
  • Executive Wealth Management
  • Grace and Porta
  • PuroClean of Mid-Michigan
  • WHMI 93.5

If you would like to join this list of corporate sponsors or contribute with an individual donation, please email or call DeVonna Snowden at dsnowden@cgliv.com or (810) 844-1166, or find the Donate Now link at Cgliv.com

Listen as Joe Thomas of Crystal Gardens talks about Feeding Our Frontline Heroes on WHMI:

Watch as DeVonna Snowden of Crystal Gardens is interviewed by Julie Holton of mConnexions: