The much-loved coffee, sandwiches and baked goods available at Brooklyn’s Roots Café now come with something extra: a generous serving of love, compassion and hope.
When they took over the business two years ago, Gareth Manwaring and his wife, Patricia, envisioned making the cafe a popular neighborhood gathering spot. And they have ramped up the kindness and generosity quotient big time since converting Roots to a food pantry and soup kitchen as the COVID-19 pandemic has battered New York.
“For a lot of people, this can be a very lonely time, like dangerously lonely,” said Gareth, a camera assistant and Local 600 member since 2009. “It’s so important to support the people who are still out there and making sure that people are heard.”
“We’re trying to hold on to normal as much as we can which is hard because we’re not pretending things are normal,” added Patricia. “We want people to be able to walk in and be able to take a deep breath and feel like it’s going to be OK. That’s a huge part of what we set out to do.”
In mid-March, as the COVID-19 pandemic was shutting down both film and TV production and businesses throughout the city, the Manwarings took stock of their situation. Business at Roots was dropping off and staff members were leaving. But given their mission in running the business and the love of their neighborhood and customers, the Manwarings knew Roots couldn’t shutter.
They decided instead to cut down on the menu items and operate on shortened hours with a limited staff. While customers can come in and continue to buy coffee and food, families in need can pick up a free grilled cheese sandwich or vegan chili. Or they can take goods from the ever-changing food pantry.
On March 21, the family established a GoFundMe site to help support the venture, quickly raising $5,000 in the first week. In addition to the financial donations, people from the neighborhood have also responded, offering donations ranging from soap to toys to baby goods to art that they can sell to help with expenses. Roots Café regulars and volunteers also come around to pick up bags of groceries help deliver groceries to the housebound.
“It’s kind of amazing to see the relationships that form between people who might not have that access to each other,” said Patricia. “We have a guy who is a real estate agent who adopted a family. Three days a week, he stops at the coffee shop and we’ll pack him food and he’ll deliver it to the family. A lot of this is word of mouth. People come in and they might buy a coffee or get a free sandwich or grab some things from the pantry. We feel like in the midst of this scariness, being able to take care of people makes it less scary.”
Patricia Manwaring witnesses most of the activity first-hand. Since the family took over the business, she has been the creative half of the partnership, the one who chooses the colors and comes up with eclectic menu choices while Gareth designs the café’s website, takes the photos and is Roots Café’s numbers guy. A B-camera first assistant on The Blacklist before the shutdown, Gareth told several cast members about the soup kitchen/pantry venture and got some social media love and a financial donation from actors Megan Boone and Amir Arison.
Since the change-over, Patricia has been behind the counter at Roots while Gareth has taken over the home schooling of their son Harrison (age 9) and daughters Winona (6) and Saorise (3). When husband and wife get together to review the day’s activity, Gareth takes it all in with great satisfaction.
“I’m so interested to hear every story and question that comes in,” he said. “All of the support has been so wonderful.”