As the world continues to grapple with the pandemic, there has been a silver lining -- an outpour of genuine compassion from brands eager to make their support known in communities across the nation.

From providing masks to healthcare workers to supporting other small businesses, the quality of a brand and its character are heavily tested based on their response in such unprecedented times.

I reached out to five executives who shared the creative ways their teams have stepped up in their communities to show support, despite facing their own hardships.

Furlough Kitchen by Walk-On's

While its doors are closed, Walk-On's is still finding a way to give back. The brand has joined forces with Furlough Kitchen in Dallas to open "Furlough Kitchen by Walk-On's Sports Bistreaux," a non-profit operation that provides furloughed hospitality workers free meals, no matter their former employer. To date, Walk-On's has served over 7,000 meals across six markets as the movement continues to gain momentum.

The Kitchen operates out of a food truck with a drive-thru so that people can stay in their vehicles and be handed their food in a contact-free curbside process. As company President Scott Taylor says, "Community involvement has never been more important. With help from donors, we have the ability to lessens the impact that COVID-19 has caused, one meal at a time."

The brand is currently collecting donations to expand Furlough Kitchen by Walk-On's into new markets along with expanded days and hours of operation to provide even more meals for employees whose jobs have been affected by the virus. To donate, go to walkonsgameon.org.

Great Harvest Opens its Arms

Great Harvest Bakery Cafe owners throughout the U.S. are helping feed communities. With bread and other items flying off grocery store shelves, the nearly 200 strong army of owners in 45 states have been creating donation shelves, offering free bags of goodies to families in need, pledging to supply food banks and using their daily-milled wheat and fresh ingredients to give back.

"The owners are finding creative ways to give generously to others. Some have teamed up with other small business owners in the community to set up free farmers markets and others are making box lunches for hospital staffs and other essential workers" said Mike Ferretti, CEO of Great Harvest.

In many cases, owners are receiving calls from individuals, companies, and their amazing customers making monetary donations so the bakery café can provide services and food for people in need.

Ziebart Gets Creative in Supporting First Responders

Ziebart, a 60-year-old global provider of vehicle protection and appearance services, is offering a free disinfectant wipe down of highly touched areas for all first responder vehicles.

First responders can go to their local participating Ziebart store for a detailed anti-bacterial wipe down on high traffic/touched areas such as door handles, steering wheels, etc. With this zero-contact service, first responders wait outside their vehicle while the Ziebart technicians wipe down the high-touch point areas.

"In a time of crisis, giving back and banding together as a community raises spirits and provides hope," said Thomas E. Wolfe, President and CEO of Ziebart. "In the end of all this, you can look back and say you tried to do your part by doing the right thing."

Big Frog Brings its Community Together

"As a brand that is fully immersed in the lives of locals, from school outings to sporting and fundraising events, it seemed unnatural to our franchisees to merely close up shop and not help in this time of need," said Tina Baco-DeFrece, President and CEO of Big Frog Custom T-Shirts & More.? 

For example, Mara and John Dougherty of Big Frog of Northwest Arkansas, created a Covid-19 themed t-shirt collection to bring lighthearted humor to their customers and donate a portion of sales to the CDC Foundation's Emergency Response Fund.

They also partnered with a local non-profit providing free meals to families and offered #FAITHNotFear t-shirts for their volunteers.

More recently, the pair launched an #EverydayHERO campaign, delivering over 200 shirts to nominated healthcare professionals, teachers, and grocery store workers.? 

Marco's Pizza Gets Hyperlocal

For Marco's Pizza, its 'People-First' cultural belief serves as a guiding light as franchisees across the nation step up to support their communities. An open letter from company President and COO Tony Libardi kick-started and encouraged more of these hyper-local giveback initiatives by proclaiming to consumers, "You can count on Marco's Pizza."? 

As a result, franchisees are unleashing numerous community giveback programs such as delivering complimentary meals to healthcare workers and first responders, establishing 501c3 nonprofit organizations, fundraising to support ailing local restaurant businesses and more.

Notably, Tampa Area representative Jon Gaudineer teamed up with local pediatric cancer centers to deliver meals to children and their families as well as nurses. According to Gaudineer, no group is more at risk than the children whose immune systems are so compromised. He understands this firsthand as his son, now in remission, was diagnosed with Stage 4 Cancer when he was just three years old.

Throughout this pandemic, Gaudineer and franchisees in Tampa have been working with the Children's Cancer Center of Tampa and others to deliver dozens of contact-free lunches and dinners to families and healthcare workers in need.