Volunteers helping displaced employees of the Kirby & Holloway Family Restaurant raised $1,500 on Saturday.

Dover’s Kirby & Holloway Family Restaurant has a reputation not just for good food, but for community camaraderie. People have dined there for generations since the eatery opened in 1948, so it’s not surprising many consider the owners and staff as part of their extended families.

With that in mind, it’s also no surprise that so many people have come together following the devastating Feb. 2 fire that shut down the restaurant. The newly-formed Friends of Kirby & Holloway Family Restaurant set up an assistance fund the same day as the fire, and workers received their first checks − $150 − from that fund on Feb. 14.

“You don’t know what it is like to get that check,” said waitress Joan Hammond, whose husband, Amos, is the restaurant’s baker.

“When we got it yesterday, we just stood there and hugged each other and cried,” Hammond said. “I just want the community to know how really thankful we are.”

Volunteers work up a sweat

It takes work, and in the case of several dozen people Saturday morning, a lot of sweat to add money to that fund.

It was a challenge George Dobbins couldn’t resist.

The owner of the CrossFit Dover gym in the Enterprise Business Park, Dover, Dobbins hosted what he dubbed a “Row-A-Thon” Saturday morning, with people taking turns on rowing machines to raise money for the restaurant’s employees.

Teams of three volunteered to alternate workouts for one hour, with each team member donating a minimum of $10, Dobbins said.

When the Row-A-Thon ended, the roughly 60 people who participated had raised $1,500.

“One thing this gym is about is giving back to the community,” Dobbins said. “That’s one element of what’s made us who we are.”

Michael and Kristin Dixon of Dover were at CrossFit at 8 a.m., ready to go to work.

“We used to eat at Kirby & Holloway several times a week, at least,” Kristin said. “We love it there.”

Drew Slater, who is helping coordinate the relief efforts, said it is difficult for many to relate to the loss the restaurant employees suffered from the fire.

“People like Julie Hammond just exemplify what this whole group is trying to do,” Slater said. “After hearing her personal story of the struggles she and her husband are going through by being out of work, we can’t thank George and CrossFit enough. The money we raised was well beyond what we expected for one morning.

“The outpouring of help from the community has been incredible.”

The displaced employees also have been getting assistance from United Way of Delaware, the Food Bank of Delaware, Delaware 211 and Westside Health, as well as the NCALL affordable housing corporation and its $tand By Me program, which is helping the employees with filing their 2013 taxes.

Slater said the Friends group is planning a fundraising silent auction and dinner on March 26 at the Cheswold Fire Company, which, he said, is appropriate since Cheswold was one of the fire companies that responded on Feb. 2. There also are plans for a fundraising breakfast event, at a date to be announced.

Restaurant will rebuild

Katie Cooke, daughter of restaurant owners Jim and Kathy Gray, said the community support for her family and their employees has been overwhelming.

“We have such a dedicated and hardworking staff, this entire ordeal has been difficult for them,” she said. “It just warms my heart to know this community cares so much for my Kirby & Holloway family. We are all so very thankful for the support.”

Michael Scharmach, a coach and trainer at CrossFit who has known Cooke since the two were teenagers, was on hand early Saturday morning to take her turn and to coach the other volunteers.

She was touched by how much has been done for the Grays and their employees.

“When we found out the workers at Kirby & Holloway had been displaced and were potentially without income, we wanted to help out,” she said. “They work really hard, and a lot of them live paycheck to paycheck. For them to be out of work is devastating.”

“Gestures like this have made this whole process absolutely humbling, but also energizing,” Cooke said.

The Grays already have announced plans to rebuild their business, and the marquee on the sign outside the now-boarded up restaurant promises a reopening later this year.

Anyone wishing to make additional contributions to the Kirby & Holloway Community Employees Fund may do so by contacting the T.D. Bank at 758 N. Dupont Hwy., Slater said.

Additional information also is available at the Friends of Kirby & Holloway Family Restaurant Facebook page.