By Tony Bellissimo
May was a whirlwind month for Chrissa Schmerler, who logged 20-hour workdays to provide meals for frontline workers, members of law enforcement and pretty much anyone else in need.
Owner of The Big Cheese food truck since 2013, the lifelong Bellmore resident was preparing for business to ramp up as usual in April when the spread of Covid-19 shut everything down. “I really didn’t know what the immediate future held,” said Schmerler, a 1997 Mepham High School graduate. “It was scary, but God had a plan.”
Among other charitable efforts that sprung up in the early days of the pandemic, Schmerler did as much as she could on her own before reaching out to the nonprofit World Central Kitchen. And the rest, as they say, is history. The partnership led to an incredible outpouring: with help from WCK, Schmerler was able to dole out 1,000 meals per day, six days a week, for the entire month of May.
“Feeding and helping people has always been second nature for me,” Schmerler said. “It was a ton of work. I had a lot of help and not a lot of sleep. To have people wait for as many as seven hours on line to pick up meals we prepared was just unbelievable.”
Given the enormity of the undertaking, cooking solely out of the food truck would have been extremely difficult. That’s where Aiden Ward, a North Bellmore resident, stepped up and offered his kitchen at McBride’s Pub for Schmerler to prepare meals and store supplies. The two have been friends for a decade after meeting numerous times at the Bellmore Family Street Festival.
“I encouraged Chrissa and my business was closed at the time, so I opened my doors to help,” Ward said. “It was absolutely crazy — she and her crew were working around the clock.”
On a typical day in May, Schmerler would arrive at McBride’s at 4 a.m. to begin cooking. Meals consisted of a protein such as chicken, a starch like potatoes or rice, and a vegetable. An assembly line for packaging would start around 7 a.m., and deliveries began two hours later.
Destinations included Northwell’s North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, Bronx Memorial Hospital, Winthrop Hospital, Saint Catherine’s Hospital and Nassau County police precincts. Schmerler would typically return to McBride’s around 3 or 4 in the afternoon and wouldn’t get home until midnight.
“It was such an honor to help those who save our lives, protect us and go out each day to make a difference,” she said.
Since then it’s been a gradual return to business as usual — private parties and catering. The Big Cheese (thebigcheesee.com) also began a six-week stay at Jones Beach’s Field 2, where the truck will remain through Labor Day. “I’m thrilled to be there,” Schmerler said. “I was invited there for the air show and Fourth of July last year and it’s just great.”
Some of the unique items available include bacon-wrapped mozzarella sticks, the “Say Cheese,” a grilled cheese sandwiched topped with homemade macaroni and cheese, stuffed burgers and stuffed egg rolls.
“Everything is made fresh,” Schmerler said. “It’s a thrill to hear people say waiting on my long line was worth it.”