What began as a simple way to stay in business for the Subway restaurant owner has turned into a larger movement bringing his community together and helping in more ways than one.
UPDATE: It has been nearly five months since we first shared Vince Carbone’s story of his creative efforts to keep his Subway business afloat while also serving first responders and medical workers in his community. To date, Carbone and his team have now served over 6,100 meals and are aiming to hit 10,000 by the end of the year. While area hospitals have thankfully slowed down a bit, he and his team continue to accept donations and serve those in need. Once schools transition back to in-person classes, he hopes to focus on helping schools and educators.
Follow along on Facebook as he continues to share his story.
When the dark cloud of COVID-19 found its way to Vince Carbone’s corner of the world, it gave him two choices: Sit and cry or get up and fight. He chose the latter.
Carbone, who graduated from Elon in 1995 with a marketing degree, is a small business owner of a Subway franchise restaurant in Ashburn, Virginia, right outside of Washington, D.C. When the pandemic reached their community, his wife lost her job in the local school system and he was forced to close his restaurant doors. The Carbones were left with no income and three kids to feed.
“When you get that initial kick to the gut, you either sit there and say, I guess this is going to be a long road and feel sorry for yourself and try to hide from it,” Carbone said, “or you can say, alright, I’m just going to have to turn this around and prove everyone wrong that we can still make it in this difficult time.”
What started as a simple act to stay afloat and save his livelihood has turned into somewhat of a movement in his community. Initially, he was taking orders like many restaurants and delivering to 10 to 12 houses a day just to stay in business. People began to ask what they could do to help more and donations started to trickle in.
Simply accepting donations did not feel right, though, so instead Carbone started putting that money to work by delivering meals to those who needed it. Inspired by a California restaurant owner who was doing something similar to help local hospitals with his restaurant, Carbone was able to make connections with local hospitals through his own Adopt a Nurse or Doctor program.
“I’m really not a social media person, but this was my only avenue to help me thrive and generate any kind of business,” Carbone said. “So I put a post on Facebook saying for all those who have been asking how to help, this is how we’re going to do it.” For $6.50, people could buy a meal and Carbone would deliver it to a local hospital to give to a doctor or nurse.
Slowly business started building and that allowed Carbone to feel better about people donating money. Many stuck at home are wondering how they can help and Carbone is providing an option. Not only was it helping the medical staff and first responders he was feeding, but it was helping him stay in business and even allowed him to bring back some of his employees who have been with him for over 10 years. They also had families and needed the work.
Carbone and his team have been delivering to five hospitals in his area bringing about 50-100 meals a day. “We’re close to 1,000 meals served already and my goal is to do 5,000 meals. But I hope by the time we hit that goal we don’t have to bring meals to anybody anymore,” he quipped.
Even though his business may look a little different, the feeling he gets from helping people remains. “I go into work and the doors are closed, we’re not open to the public, all of our chairs are up and it’s nothing like it used to be,” Carbone said. “We’re making these meals for these doctors and nurses and fire fighters and police officers, and when we bring this food to them, even though I can’t see their smiles, I know everyone is smiling underneath their masks. It’s been a blessing. It’s definitely been something that’s helped me get through the days.
“You might think you’re just helping a health care worker with your $65 (equivalent to 10 meals) but you’re actually helping so many more people. You’re helping me keep the doors open, you’re helping my employees, so it’s going a long way,” Carbone explained. “As long as I can keep generating donations and business, I’m going to keep doing what I can to help out.”
The deliveries are all no contact deliveries. Maintaining safe distances and wearing proper protective gear is a priority for Carbone and his team. However, once the masks come off, Carbone is ready to handout some hugs.
“When this is all said and done, I want to be able to shake hands and give hugs to people who have donated and helped,” he said. “Saying thank you in a post it feels so impersonal. They have to know what it means, and when you see people you can get the point across better.”
It is a good thing Carbone decided to take action to generate his own business because he recently found out his small business loan did not go through due to a lack of government funding. Nevertheless, he hopes to continue serving his community through donations and generous patrons until this COVID-19 cloud lifts.
Hopefully by then, the only thing measured in feet at his Ashburn store will be Subway’s classic subs, not the distance between customers.
About this series: The Elon Alumni in Action series explores the stories of university graduates who are doing important and uplifting work as the world faces the COVID-19 pandemic.