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Despite struggles, pizza parlor gives back during pandemic
Willie's pizza 1
Willie’s Pizza & Wings has implemented safety precautions like wearing gloves and masks while preparing food in order to protect customers from the coronavirus (Photo contributed).

As her business began to struggle in recent weeks due to coronavirus restrictions, Willie’s Pizza & Wings owner Patricia Ashman decided to spread hope rather than fear.

Less than a year after the new Turlock pizza parlor opened, statewide efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 and maintain social distancing have forced eateries to close their doors to the public and offer only delivery or curbside pickup for orders. The effect on Willie’s has been “devastating,” Ashman said, and has impacted the business she owns next door as well, Lulu’s Ice Cream Parlor.

Ashman has had to lay off half of her staff due to decreased demand. Now, her smaller staff continues to make pizza and wings with safety precautions in place for the orders that still come in.

“We were all crying. We’re like a family,” she said. “But we put our heads together to create a more positive vibe in the restaurant and one way to do that is by fundraising.”

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Willie’s owner Patricia Ashman was inspired to give back in order to spread positivity during the coronavirus pandemic (Photo contributed).

Willie’s is no stranger to giving back. The pizza parlor often hosted fundraisers pre-pandemic, selling meals to help support youth football, local schools and more. Now, Ashman plans on hosting weekly fundraisers every Tuesday for local organizations helping those affected by the virus.

“While it’s bad for us, other people are suffering even more and we need to focus on that instead of feeling sorry for ourselves,” Ashman said. “The best thing about this is that rather than focusing on the negative things, we can just do something good for others.”

So far, Willie’s has already hosted fundraisers for United Samaritans Foundation and Westside Ministries, raising hundreds of dollars for both programs. According to Westside Ministries executive director JoLynn DiGrazia, the money will be used to plant two gardens for families who are sheltering together and to feed families who are impacted by COVID-19.

Participating in a Willie’s fundraiser is both delicious and simple; the restaurant donates 25 percent of all curbside pickup pizza sales that are ordered online and mention the charity of choice. The turnout for the most recent Westside Ministries fundraiser was so supportive and vast that it left a lasting impact on Ashman.

“It’s really been on my mind because it was so beautiful. Every car that came through had something sweet to say about how they were personally impacted by Westside Ministries, and that’s why they were buying a pizza,” she said. “It’s like they were all family and I think that says something about our community.”

On Tuesday, Willie’s will host yet another fundraiser — this time for the Warrior Food Pantry at Stanislaus State, which provides non-perishable food items and toiletries at no cost to university students in need. Ashman also encourages any community members or charities who are helping those impacted by COVID-19 to reach out to Willie’s for a fundraiser. To contact Willie’s, call 209-667-9455 and follow their Facebook page to stay up-to-date on future fundraisers.

“When the going gets tough, we’ve just gotta stay positive,” Ashman said.