Many independent restaurants have come up empty in their efforts to receive Paycheck Protection Program loans so far, but a pizzeria in West Branch, Ohio, is getting aid from the government indirectly—thanks to generous customers who have donated funds from their stimulus checks to help keep the beloved pizza shop open.

“I got a letter one day, and it appeared to be a thank-you card, which we’ve been getting a lot of,” Teri Hazelwood, owner of Herb N’ Lou’s, told “Enclosed was a $1,200 check. They are still working, and they are OK right now, and they felt that was the best way they could give back and give support right now.”

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“In their letter they mentioned they would hate to lose us, and that just meant the world to all of us here,” Hazelwood added.

Hazelwood said she has since received checks from other customers. As she told, Bruce and Margaret Martin left a gift of $600 with a note.

“Enclosed is half of our government stimulus money,” the note read. “We believe the best thing we can do at this time is support our local businesses. We have chosen you and one other restaurant to help out because we feel that not only are you among the most impacted by this situation, but your contribution to our community is among the greatest.”

Another customer, known to management only as Susan, added a $200 tip to her order and asked that the pizzeria provide food to a family in need. “This brought me to tears,” Hazelwood wrote in a Facebook post. “I hope she sees this post as I don’t have contact information for her, and I hope she sees how blessed this world is for people like her. During this whole situation, I personally feel like I have gotten closer to our community and the surrounding communities, and for that I’m extremely grateful.”

Another anonymous couple forked over a check for $100, which the pizzeria used to give away a $25 gift certificate four Fridays in a row during April and early May.

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Restaurants in Iowa have been given the green light to reopen at 50-percent capacity, but Hazelwood believes it’s too soon. She has decided to stick with delivery and curbside pickup for now.

“We are a small community surrounded by bigger communities that have higher [coronavirus] case rates right now,” Hazelwood told KCRG. “It was the best choice for the safety of my employees and the community as a whole to not open just yet. Financially, it would be great. I would love to welcome people with open arms, and we will get there, but ethically just not quite yet.”

Meanwhile, with her dine-in service and bar shut down, Hazelwood told KCRG that her sales have declined about 50 percent. Still, she has kept all of her employees on payroll and has converted her bartenders into delivery drivers.

Pizza News, Pizzerias