Ruma's Deli Customers Launch Grassroots Pay-It-Forward Effort to Feed the Hungry

Feb 16, 2021 at 2:46 pm
Customers at the St Charles Ruma's Deli have been paying it forward to those in need of a meal. - COURTESY OF DANA BANNISTER
Customers at the St Charles Ruma's Deli have been paying it forward to those in need of a meal.

Dana Bannister was going about her usual business of running her St. Charles location of Ruma's Deli (1500 Elm Street, St. Charles; 636-757-3991) when one of her friends approached her with an idea to help those in need. The concept was simple: Customers would pay for meals, post the receipts on the wall, and those who were hungry could simply pull down a ticket and enjoy some lunch or dinner. Bannister thought it was brilliant.

"He saw someone else doing it at another restaurant and said that we needed to do this," says Bannister of her friend, who wishes to remain anonymous. "He told me that he was going to be the first person to put a ticket on the wall; then he bought ten meals."

In less than two weeks, those initial ten orders have blossomed into a small grassroots movement that is helping to feed the area's hungry. According to Bannister, there was a point when the sandwich shop had 106 tickets on the wall, though she estimates that the number of meals provided is actually larger.

"People are taking them down, and people are putting them up even quicker, so it's hard to say exactly how many have been provided," says Bannister.

According to Bannister, people have either been donating their favorite meals — the person who started the movement is particularly fond of the iconic Gerber sandwich — or simply giving her and her team their payment information and asking them to pick something out for those in need. Up to this point, those donors have outweighed those using the program, though she expects the numbers to increase as word continues to get out.

As for those who have already benefited from the meals, Bannister has found most to be pretty quiet about their circumstances. However, some have been very appreciative, explaining to her how they have fallen on hard times and insisting that they plan on repaying their meals as soon as they are able.

"I tell them that is absolutely not necessary, that this is here for them because they need it now, and that's all that matters," Bannister says.

Though she is thankful that the business has been managing to make it during the pandemic, Bannister can empathize with those who have found themselves in economic distress. Business has been down over the past year, and though there are good days, there are just as many days that are so slow that it scares her. The pre-paid meals have helped the deli tremendously, and she plans to keep them up as long as people keep donating them.

"As long as there are tickets, we are going to keep this going," says Bannister. "Even if the customers can't do it, we will do it when we can."

However, she believes that her loyal regulars will be paying it forward indefinitely, because she's become familiar with their generosity over the two years she's been open for business.

"I think the community here and customers are absolutely awesome," says Bannister. "Anytime we do anything, they really step up to the plate. Without them, I would not be able to open the doors."

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