WASHINGTON — Firehouse Pizza employees who found themselves without a job when the restaurant suddenly closed this month aren't being left in the cold.
An anonymous donor gave $100 to each of the 17 employees plus an assistant manager who left the restaurant in October and is struggling financially. All 18 recipients live in Washington. The donor is a Washington family that lost its home to the 2013 tornado.
A YouCaring online account set up by a community member has generated about $200 for the employees, who have had paychecks bounce intermittently for months.
According to sources including several employees, about $3,100 in wages is owed to several employees, not including paychecks that are supposed to be distributed Friday for the final week the restaurant was open. The restaurant closed Dec. 17.
Kelly Couri, co-owner of Firehouse Pizza restaurants in Peoria and Normal that are not affiliated with the Firehouse Pizza in Washington, has offered to cover as much of the money owed to the employees as he can.
The employees' planned Christmas party is expected to be held at the Firehouse Pizza in Peoria after details are worked out.
Threads, Hope & Love, a Washington ministry that helps families in need, has offered gifts and gift cards to employees who have children.
While none of the employees has found a new job, a recruiter at an area business posted a Facebook message letting employees know there are job openings at the recruiter's business.
The employees have been dealing with more than bounced paychecks since early this year. Power to the restaurant was shut off for a week in June, and calls from bill collectors at the restaurant disrupted workdays.
Several employees staged a peaceful walk-out and protest Dec. 16 in front of the restaurant at 1320 Washington Road. That followed a Facebook post at 10:15 a.m. that day by employee Christianna Hershey announcing the walk-out and protest and reasons for it.
"A lot of people honked as they drove by and saw our signs," Hershey said. "I put the post on Facebook because people needed to know what was happening at the restaurant."
Hershey said she worked at the restaurant for a year as the opening prep person.
"I loved my job, and I love the people I worked with. I miss making pizza," she said. "We cared about the place. We tried to help the owner work through the problems. We came up with ideas, even for new products."
Restaurant owner Anthony Rosa said in a Facebook post Dec. 18 that he had closed the restaurant "to re-assess commitment to serving the area," and he disputed employees' claims they hadn't been paid.
A member of the anonymous donor family said she felt bad for the employees because of the financial problems they were facing during the holidays.
"We'd eaten at Firehouse Pizza, and enjoyed it," she said. "The employees are dealing with a storm, just like we did with the tornado. When it happened to us, I remember not being able to think clearly, and being so grateful when people helped us.
"One day shortly after the tornado I was cleaning debris in my yard, and somebody came by and handed me $100. The employees need to know people care, they'll get through this, and things will get better."
The woman said her family made the donations to the employees anonymously in the spirit of Christmas.
"It's what Christmas is all about. Giving without expecting something in return," she said.
Monetary donations for the employees can be made on the YouCaring page or taken to Threads, Hope & Love at 121 Zinser Place.
Steve Stein can be reached at 686-3114 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.