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Business owners launch effort to provide meals for essential employees

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Community effort to feed first responders

Tyler Cannady carries a food delivery to the kitchen at Horry County Fire Rescue Carolina Bays Station 45 in Carolina Forest on Tuesday. The food, prepared and donated at Dragon Panda, is delivered by Tara Ewalt (center) and Ana Mabry. Ewalt owns Mollie’s Morsels and Mabry owns A.S.K. Nutrition in Carolina Forest. The pair coordinate with community restaurants to prepare food for first responders, including those at the United States Postal Service, as they deliver the food. Photo by Janet Morgan/

Seeing essential workers continue their duties during the coronavirus crisis, Tara Ewalt and Ana Mabry hatched an idea to show their thanks.

Using donated funds, the two business owners have distributed food from Horry County restaurants to local first responders, health care employees and postal workers.

“We just felt that they needed to be recognized,” said Ewalt, the owner of Mollie’s Morsels.

She and Mabry, who owns A.S.K. Nutrition in Carolina Forest, have utilized social media to turn the idea into reality.

Donors have chipped in a few hundred dollars on the project’s Facebook page, and Mabry’s shop is also accepting donated cash. That money helps pay restaurants’ costs and tip the businesses’ staff members.

“We tried to figure out a way we could get the community together to do this,” Ewalt said. “We like the fact that restaurants are involved, too, because it gets the whole community involved.”

She added restaurants that have gotten involved were “thrilled” to as they had hoped for a way to help out.

Eateries such as Dragon Pan have even offered to provide cuisine free of charge. Owner Annie Zheng reached out to the project’s organizers after learning of the effort online.

“I just want to do something to help the people out there,” she said.

Her Chinese restaurant off of International Drive recently decided to close for the time being, but has since opened twice in recent weeks to cook and box the meals.

“That actually made me get teary-eyed,” Ewalt said of Zheng’s offer to help. “I was floored. I couldn’t believe she did that.”

The pandemic has affected Zheng in other ways as well.

While she enjoys the time she spends at home with her family, including her two young sons, they are unable to visit her cancer-stricken grandmother in China due to the current travel restrictions.

“It’s scary,” Zheng said about the outbreak, “especially for the seniors.”

On Tuesday, she and some of her family members were at Dragon Pan, boxing up popular dishes like General Tso's chicken that were delivered to two Horry County Fire Rescue stations in Carolina Forest.

“It’s a little bit of TLC for people putting their lives at risk every single day serving everybody in the community,” Mabry said.

So far, other restaurants that have gotten involved include Olive Garden and Outback Steakhouse, and Ewalt and Mabry are thankful for the generosity shown by the eateries and donors.

Updates on the project, which began supplying meals last week, have been shared through its Facebook page.

Along with fire rescue personnel, food has been given to members of the Myrtle Beach Police Department, postal workers in Carolina Forest and employees of the Grand Strand and Conway hospitals.

“Everybody’s been so receptive,” Mabry said.

Organizers hope for the efforts to continue. Anyone looking to get involved can click here to visit the First Responders Dine In Project Facebook page.


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