Crosby Melendi ’20 starts grassroots initiative to support Florida-based restaurants

The strategic communications major is raising money to help eateries prepare food for frontline workers in Tampa during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Melendis (l-r, Brooke, Chuck, Crosby ’20 and Ansley) started Rising Tide Tampa Bay to help local restaurants and feed frontline workers during the pandemic.

Crosby Melendi ’20 had been home for a week. She was coming out of spring break, but not leaving her home in Tampa to return to Elon. Instead, the strategic communications major and Communications Fellow was locked in place as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of the few things she and her family – father, Chuck, mother, Brooke, and sister, Ansley, a first-year student at University of Massachusetts-Amherst – could do was take a walk. So they did, and they began discussing the local businesses, particularly restaurants, that were shuttering as a result of the coronavirus. This included a family friend’s eatery that laid off 100 employees.

And then it dawned on Melendi: “We can do more than just quarantine and sit around and not get sick.”

On April 1, Rising Tide Tampa Bay was born. The Melendis began the grassroots initiative in Tampa, where Melendi said her family has lived since her great grandparents settled there, to raise money for local restaurants to prepare, package and deliver food to frontline pandemic workers, like medical personnel, police officers and firefighters. The initial goal was $10,000. Within three days, they had $5,000. And within a just over a week, they had reached $10K.

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“We’re just some random Tampa family that has lived here forever,” said Melendi, who previously served as agency director of Live Oak Communications. “We want to keep raising money and keep this going as long as we can because even after the pandemic reaches its peak and starts going down, the restaurants are still going to be struggling, and the frontline workers are still going to be putting their lives at risk.”

Melendi said it costs about $3,000 a week to deliver around 60 meals a day, which they’ve done every day since they launched the project. And that’s why it’s important they continue to find donors who are willing to give, especially because their new goal is $20,000.

“Without the donors, this project wouldn’t be possible,” she said. “We’re letting them know that 100 percent of the donations are going toward feeding these workers.”

Crosby Melendi ’20, left, is working with her sister, Ansley, to raise money for restaurants in Tampa. Crosby is pictured here with a caterer during their work to support restaurants.

Here’s how it works. First, the restaurant is chosen because “the whole idea was born out of helping these business not go out of business and helping them bring on some of their workers they had to lay off initially,” Melendi said. There are a couple of establishments the Melendis work with regularly, but they also seek out places they know are struggling.

Once the restaurant is selected, they start talking numbers. How many meals can the restaurant handle? What will it cost per meal? What’s the minimum amount of money needed to make the order worthwhile to the restaurant? And can the restaurant individually package each order?

The answers to those questions determine where the meals go. “If a restaurant tells us they can serve 30 people, then let’s do a fire station because that’s how many people are there,” Melendi said. On April 10, the restaurant Datz prepared and served 75 meals to Tampa General Hospital.

Melendi set up a GoFundMe page, built the initiative’s social media presence, and wrote press releases and pitches to local media outlets. And she credits her internships and her coursework in the School of Communications for preparing her for this experience.

“The communications skills I learned at Elon have helped me so much,” she said. “My confidence (comes from) my internships and real-world experience, but also the basic fundamentals I got at Elon.”

Melendi said the community has reacted positively to Rising Tide Tampa Bay and, yes, risen to the occasion. Most of the donors live in Tampa, and some include the frontline workers and restaurants they’re trying to serve. And she hopes she can continue to serve the place her family has called home for generations.

“The reaction has been positive. People have been blown away by it,” Melendi said. “We have deep roots here. Everyone wants to help during this time and may not know how. We wanted to give people an outlet to do that.”