Coronavirus Chronicles: The Juiceman cometh

Larry Clarke with a bottle of surplus juice. (Photo courtesy Larry Clarke)

When the coronavirus lockdown began, Larry Clarke of Mountlake Terrace looked at his Oldskool Juice Co. inventory of freshly squeezed juices in dismay. His usual outlets — hotels and restaurants — were closed. “I didn’t have distribution deals with grocery stores and I was thinking, how do I liquidate $10,000 of fresh product? I was freaking out and then I thought, just go do something with it.”

That something was partnering with Megan de Vries, director of the Edmonds School District Food and Nutrition Service, to hand out gallons of freshly squeezed juices in the district’s free feeding program at Mountlake Terrace schools.

After in-person classes were canceled for the remainder of the school year due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the department has been meeting the nutritional needs of students through 27 meal pick-up locations, home meal-deliveries and pantry boxes for families, de Vries said.

When Clarke reached out to her, she took him up on the offer. “It has quickly become the highlight of many of our families’ week,” she said. “He was spreading joy with each jug of juice.”

He chose Fridays for distributing bottles of orange, grapefruit and watermelon juices as well as lemonade. “It was a treat for their weekend,” Clarke said.

He also left unsold juice at the front doors of neighbors. “Maybe 15 or 20 houses. I left anonymous boxes of juice.”

To his continuing surprise, the effort bestowed unexpected benefits. “That first day out, before I left home, I was anxious. I went from tears of angst to tears of joy. It was so well received, little kids in the back seat yelling for lemonade.”

Clarke also enjoyed a reprieve from his relentless schedule. “I had been working for 15 years, six days a week, nose to the grindstone. It was always just get up and go, get up and go. Then suddenly it all stopped. It took a few days to clear my head. I detailed my van. I did my books. Then I had nothing to do, so the juice giveaway was a welcome distraction.”

In between delivery days, he discovered a measure of serenity. “There’s a lot of self-examination going on. You know, what are we doing, so busy all the time? This is a great opportunity in its way. My wife and I sit in the yard and it’s quiet, no freeway traffic. We look at the stars. But also, there’s the ‘where is the toilet paper,’ that whole thing.”

Meanwhile his business remains excruciatingly slow. “Will I survive this? I don’t know.”

With a wholesale food service, Clarke still supplies juice to a handful of places. “I rely on a robust city. Now I make maybe six runs a day where typically I make 30.”

He’s also working on ways to continue the free school-distribution, exploring different charitable avenues that he might be able to partner with. “It’s a work in progress,” he said, adding, “this has been easier than expected and in a lot of ways, we are blessed.”

— By Connie McDougall

This article is part of an ongoing series exploring the impact of coronavirus on the life, work and health of local residents. If you or someone you know has a story to tell, please email us at myedmondsnews@gmail.com. For other stories in this series, click here

 

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