HLS Juice Bar and Grill on Springfield Avenue has long been home to delicious wraps, salads, bowls, smoothies, and cold pressed juices. As the coronavirus pandemic reared its head, HLS stepped forward with a pantry to better serve customers who need groceries during the pandemic.
But over the last couple of months, HLS has worked tirelessly donating to SOMA Heroes for Heroes, a program designed to keep first responders fed while they were busy keeping the community safe. “We did it to thank our community and first responders,” says Oby Otti, who owns HLS with her husband Benson. We all have one thing in common right now–we are fighting coronavirus. And we feel a real connection with all the people who help us.”
The SOMA Heroes for Heroes program was founded by realtor Allison Ziefert in early April. Funds donated to the Heroes for Heroes fund was used to pay local businesses to provide meals for South Orange and Maplewood Fire, Police, First Aid Squads and the Department of Public Works. “Without Allison and her team, this connection wouldn’t have happened,” says Oby.
The donated meals for first responders for two weeks, as requested. But as that period ended and other restaurants were shifting their focus elsewhere, the Ottis realized the need continued to be great. So they decided to continue to provide meals for an additional month. In total, HLS donated 500 meals, worth more than $5,000.
Maplewood Mayor Frank McGehee commended “the dedication of Oby and Benson Otti of HLS, a Black-owned business that stepped up for six weeks to serve our community and beyond by feeding our first responders during COVID-19 and during the outrage and raw emotion resulting from the murder of George Floyd.” McGehee said, “I want thank them for their dedication to our community and being a pillar of service. Thank you to Allison Ziefert and team for conceptualizing the overarching idea which included other restaurants in the area like Roman Gourmet.”
The Otti family says they were happy to participate. “Thank you Allison for coordinating and championing this extraordinary effort,” they wrote in an email. “This experience, while challenging, has been beyond rewarding. It has highlighted the sense of community that exists within Maplewood and South Orange…Thank you [SOMA first responders] for all the work you and your teams do in our community to keep us safe. From our team to yours – you are appreciated! Your hard work does not go unnoticed!”