By Karin Davis-Thompson

Several weeks ago, when entertainment mogul Tyler Perry surprised hundreds of residents in Atlanta and New Orleans with free groceries, he had no idea how his generosity would reach all the way to Ruskin.

Inspired by Perry’s generosity, when he partnered with 29 Winn Dixies in Louisiana to provide free groceries to seniors and high risk shoppers, Winn Dixie’s parent company, Southeastern (SE) Grocers, paid the grocery bill for thousands of shoppers in all seven of the states where they have stores. Along with Winn Dixie, the company owns BI-LO, Fresco y Mas and Harveys Supermarkets.

One of the shoppers in the stores on that Monday night was Liza Reyes, a mom of two whose hours were recently cut because of COVID-19.

While the free groceries were earmarked mainly for healthcare workers and first responders, a handful of loyal customers in need like Reyes also received free groceries.

“I was just buying staples for my kids for the week,” she said. “When they told me the groceries were free, I was so grateful.”

While she, the 40-year-old, is still working, her hours have been cut drastically as the small business she works for attempts to find a way to keep employees on the payroll, even if it can’t be full-time.

“We have a good boss,” she said. “He is paying us for the first five days [of the month], then you have to use personal or sick time for the days we are not on the schedule. I am working two days on and three days off.”

Reyes said the ability to keep the roughly $150 in her pocket that she would have spent that night was a big help. SE Grocers representatives said paying for groceries for those in need and especially for healthcare workers and first responders is just a small way to pay it forward.

“Southeastern Grocers is dedicated to being there for the community when they need us most,” said Anthony Hucker, the company’s president and CEO. “We believe there is no better time than now to show acts of kindness.”

Along with free groceries, the company, through its foundation, recently donated $250,000 to Feeding America to assist those experiencing food insecurity in communities in the southeast. In addition, SE Grocers has made 5,000 positions available to those who have lost their job or whose hours have been severely reduced because of COVID-19.