What started as one donation from a loyal customer has blossomed into a movement the owners of Classic Sub Shop in Hamilton hope will spread throughout Mercer County.

Classic Sub Shop co-owner Vincent Hunter received a call March 29 from a customer wanting to donate sandwiches to area hospitals. Hunter had delivered meals the week prior to hospitals, first responders and a few pharmacies in the area, and seen many of those places had been overwhelmed with food donations. So, instead, the customer and Hunter brainstormed a way to help another group in-need: the elderly, sick and other people who could not leave home due to the risk posed by COVID-19.

Classic Sub Shop owners Dan Rolwood, TJ Hunter and Vincent Hunter.

Hunter announced the contactless delivery donation program on Classic Sub Shop’s Facebook page that evening, and by the next day, the post had almost 400 shares and 25,000 views.

“We were walking into the phone ringing off the hook with people just donating money and also requesting that their elderly neighbors or parents receive these meals,” Hunter said. “The response to start has been very impressive.”

So impressive, in fact, that it started to overwhelm his business. He had scheduled 70 deliveries through the first half of this week, despite never offering delivery before March. Hunter has limited the drivers to himself and his two business partners: his brother TJ Hunter and Dan Rolwood. The owners are doing the deliveries while their employees run the shop.

SEE ALSO: What area hospitals want you to know before you make a donation

“It was complete chaos in our store [on Monday, March 30] because we’re trying to do our lunch while, almost on the fly, figure out how to do this,” Hunter said. “We didn’t know what to expect. We were kind of caught off guard and taken by surprise. But you know, it’s minimal compared to when we delivered to the hospital, seeing the scene there.”

While the owners have figured out a system now, Classic Sub Shop has had to limit deliveries to addresses within a 3-mile radius of their shop on Route 33 in Hamilton Square. Still, the demand has been strong, as deliveries are booked up for this week entirely. Classic Sub Shop has received a $500 donation from 217 Church in Robbinsville to finance a whole additional week’s worth of deliveries, which are filling up already.

“We’ve been getting a lot of phone calls from people who are sometimes as far as 10 miles away, and we’re having to turn those types of people down,” Hunter said. “We’re hoping other restaurants see it and kind of do similar programs to help as many people as possible.”

Hunter hasn’t heard yet from any other restaurants in the area asking to join the effort, but said he’d be happy to pass on what he has learned to another restaurant owner wanting to help out. (Hamilton Mayor Jeff Martin has stopped by, though, to thank the Classic Sub crew for their work in the community.)

Classic Sub Shop is still open for takeout business, as well, and has arranged a system where customers call in their order, pay by phone and pick-up their food on a grab-and-go table set up outside the restaurant.

But Hunter said the new charitable arm of his restaurant has opened his eyes to what’s happening right in his own community. Just in the first day of donations, he received a call from an emergency room nurse who had contracted COVID-19. She was locked in her bedroom, away from others in the house, but worried about providing food to her family. Another call came from a woman whose mom had to leave home to receive chemotherapy treatments and wanted to ensure her parents did not have to worry about finding something to eat after the stress of the day.

It’s stories like those that have motivated Hunter to try to expand the effort beyond just his restaurant.

“You don’t realize this stuff till you hear it,” Hunter said. “It just makes it that much more rewarding.”

To make a donation, call Classic Sub Shop at (609) 631-0404. Classic Sub Shop is open daily 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., but hours are subject to change. For the latest information, go online to their website.