Firehouse Subs franchisee supplies free meals to Winchester Hospital

When the coronavirus pandemic surged in Massachusetts earlier this year, nurses, doctors and other front-line workers in the medical field tended to thousands of patients.

Many died. Hospital staff became overwhelmed.

To keep their spirits up, many restaurant owners, even those struggling to keep afloat throughout the pandemic, chose to donate meals to those front-line workers. Among those who stepped up for those battling the virus was Woburn Firehouse Subs franchisee Wells Aitken.

Thanks to the Paycheck Protection Program that helped business owners keep staff on payrolls, Aitken never had to close his business. Customers used the pickup and delivery options, but business still lagged.

“As people adjusted to that and we were waiting for business to pick back up, we had a lot of resources because we were able to bring the full crew back up,” Aitken said. “But there wasn’t a lot of business to put them to work.”

Aitken opted to combine the PPP funding with the national Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation to contact local hospitals to see if he could supply box lunches to their front-line workers.

Through that effort, Aitken has donated more than 620 Firehouse Subs meals to healthcare workers at Winchester Hospital, Melrose-Wakefield Hospital, Lahey Hospital and Medical Center Burlington and Lahey Hospital and Medical Center Peabody.

“I think they were grateful for what they did,” he said. “Obviously, we wanted to show our appreciation for what they were doing and that’s always been one of the key concepts behind Firehouse Subs, to give back to the community.”

Aitken said when he joined Firehouse Subs in 2013, its community outreach was one of the more appealing aspects of the company.

“Not only was it great food, but we were able to do something worthwhile, as well,” he said.

Since March 18, nearly 90,000 Firehouse Subs meals have been provided through Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation’s relief efforts to firefighters, police officers and healthcare workers, as well as individuals and families in need and seniors who are unable to leave their homes.

“It’s just nice to do something,” Aitken said. “Obviously, you’re not in the hospitals with the exposure to the virus. But you see on TV the exhaustion and the fatigue and how hard these folks are working, the troubles they are dealing with, with the lack of personal protective equipment in the early stages of it. They didn’t shy away from their responsibilities. They were there for the community. It was just nice to give a free lunch so to speak in appreciation for all that they were doing.”

Aitken said his franchise maxed out what they were able to do in the first week of June after delivering the meals over four days.

“These hometown heroes risk their lives to protect our community every day, and we wanted to do what we could to thank them for that,” Aitken said. “A commitment to public safety is part of everything we do at Firehouse Subs, and we’re glad to have the ability to give back to our healthcare workers.”