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Latitude 38 employee celebrated for keeping hearts and stomachs of Annapolis full

Bar manager Justin Schaffner hands out free lunches that were donated. A long line of people attended the tenth weekly, free farmers market for those needing food during the coronavirus pandemic, hosted by Latitude 38 in Annapolis.
Bar manager Justin Schaffner hands out free lunches that were donated. A long line of people attended the tenth weekly, free farmers market for those needing food during the coronavirus pandemic, hosted by Latitude 38 in Annapolis. (Paul W. Gillespie/Capital Gazette)

Annapolis Firefighter John Wardell is used to taking calls for help. But the call he got from Latitude 38 manager Justin Schaffner in April gave him goosebumps.

Schaffner didn’t want help. Instead, the restaurateur wanted to give back to Wardell and his fellow firefighters.

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Out of gratitude for the work of first responders and health care workers during the coronavirus pandemic, Schaffner invited them to grab anything they needed from the free downtown farmer’s market at City Dock before opening to the public.

Through 18 of those day-long markets, Schaffner, 31, has led the restaurant at City Dock in giving away 19,000 bags of food, 10,000 prepared meals, 6,000 loaves of bread and 17,000 half-gallons of milk to people in need, earning him special citations from the mayor, county executive and governor’s offices on Wednesday.

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“You’re our brother,” Wardell said. “If there’s anything you need, you’ve got a lot of friends now.”

Outside the City Dock restaurant, state Sen. Sarah Elfreth presented a citation from her office and Ward 1 Alderwoman Elly Tierney honored Schaffner as the first recipient of a City of Annapolis flag. Del. Shaneka Henson, Alderwoman Sheila Finlayson, County Councilwoman Lisa Rodvien and Mac Love, deputy director of the Governor’s Office of Community Initiatives, all shared words of thankfulness and admiration for Schaffner.

Justin Schaffner from latitude 38, received a citation from city, county, and the General Assembly Wednesday, as a small celebration of his work as a coordinator for food distribution in the community. He donated more than 8,000 half-gallons of milk to those in need last month.
Justin Schaffner from latitude 38, received a citation from city, county, and the General Assembly Wednesday, as a small celebration of his work as a coordinator for food distribution in the community. He donated more than 8,000 half-gallons of milk to those in need last month. (Selene San Felice)

“This pandemic has spared no one,” Rodvien said. “The generosity of people like Justin will get us through this.”

In its efforts to help the community, Latitude 38 has not been immune from hardships brought to restaurants by the coronavirus pandemic. Schaffner, used to managing a staff of 40, became one of only four employees trying to keep the restaurant afloat from March to June while still leading the restaurant’s program.

“We weren’t really sure what we were going to do,” Schaffner said.

But Latitude 38 owner Harvey Blonder saw his restaurant’s hardship as an opportunity to help others in need. When his food supplier shut down and couldn’t get rid of their produce, Blonder said they offered him 1,000 crates of food for $1 per crate.

Schaffner saw hundreds of people line up for the free farmer’s markets, coming from as far as Frederick, Solomon’s Island and the Eastern Shore.

“It kind of started as ‘Hey we have all this product we don’t want to go to waste,” Schaffner said. “After our first time doing it, we saw how great the need was.”

With the Latitude 38 staff back and restaurants like it getting more business, Schaffner said he can’t run the farmer’s markets weekly anymore but they’ll still be happening.

“The need is still there. Especially with the CARES act ending, the need is still strong,” Schaffner said.

The restaurant is accepting donations through GoFundMe (gofundme.com/f/latitude-38-free-community-farmers-market) and donations of goods and services to give back to the community. It recently hosted Bourtadakis Barber Shop employees giving out free haircuts.

“It’s really for us, adapting and making the best out of the situation,” Schaffner said.

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“Luckily through our loyal following of guests, we haven’t needed to close a day. We’ve been able to give back to the community and try to keep ourselves afloat here as well.”

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