Skip to main content

Omaha Magazine

Rotella’s Italian Bakery: Feeding the Hungry Amidst a Pandemic

Sep 25, 2020 04:03PM ● By Tamsen Butler
left, Louis Rotella Jr. right, Louis Rotella III

Left, Louis Rotella Jr. Right, Louis Rotella III

Rotella’s Italian Bakery, an Omaha staple since 1921, has risen to the challenge of 2020 by giving a lot of dough.

Food Bank for the Heartland has been busy this year. Their Mobile Pantry and Mobile BackPack programs served more than 364,043 individuals from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis on March 15 until June 30 and distributed more than 7.5 million meals to children, families, and seniors. Brian Barks, president and chief executive officer of Food Bank for the Heartland, said expenses for the organization during that time period were up 374% from the same time period in 2019.

The Food Bank relies on community partners like Rotella’s to offer help throughout the year, but the need has risen exponentially with the pandemic. “We have been humbled and overwhelmed by the support of community partners who have generously donated to Food Bank for the Heartland during this unprecedented time,” Barks said. “The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting us all, but for thousands of our food-insecure neighbors, the impact has
been devastating.

He continued, “Between March 15 and July 16, 2020, Rotella’s donated 73,856 pounds of sliced bread, and Food Bank for the Heartland has purchased 20,736 pounds of sliced bread.”

“We did it because they needed more,” explained Louis Rotella Jr., Rotella’s Italian Bakery CEO and president.

Rotella’s is no stranger to helping the Food Bank for the Heartland. Representative Laura Plark estimated they’ve given weekly donations of food to the Food Bank since around 2005. “It started with two pallets and then [went] to four pallets,” Plark said. “Then the pandemic hit and they asked us for 10 pallets. They said they would pay for the food. I said, ‘Let me talk to Louis.’ In the beginning of the pandemic, for six weeks, all the food we gave them was free.” The Food Bank now purchases some of the bread at cost—a greatly reduced rate—but continues to receive ample donations from the bakery.

The need has been urgent during the pandemic, with so many families struggling to buy groceries amidst economic uncertainty. “Rotella’s bread is being distributed to children, families, and seniors in need across Nebraska and western Iowa through the Food Bank’s Mobile Pantry program and its network of pantry partners,” Barks said.

Rotella’s has a reputation of helping the community and often jumps into action when there is a need. “The Open Door Mission, the pantries—we try to give that way so they don’t have to use their resources to pay,” Rotella said. “During the floods we did a lot of pop-ups, feeding the people who were helping with cleanup. We also sent around twenty truckloads of products to Florida and Georgia during the hurricane. We’ve helped out after tornados.”

“Rotella’s has been a longtime weekly food donor,” Barks said. “The Food Bank picks up the donated bread from Rotella’s each week.”

Rotella said giving bread is a tradition that started with his grandfather. “It basically started with my grandfather, and my father was the same way, and now my son. My grandfather started the bakery in 1921, the Depression hit, and people couldn’t buy bread. My grandparents fed all the people. That’s how it all started. They believed everyone should have bread at every meal.”

He continued, “We have really good employees. Our culture is to help everyone in need. The Omaha community is where we started. They helped us so we’re giving back.” 

The Food Bank is working overtime to try to feed the hungry. Barks said it’s easy for community members to help. “We are grateful for the support shown by the community. Neighbors are helping neighbors during this uncertain time. If members of the community are seeking opportunities to help the Food Bank, they are encouraged to visit [the website] to make a secure financial donation used to purchase critical meals and to obtain information about volunteering in the Food Bank’s volunteer center packing community packs, sorting produce, and helping with other projects.”

Because Rotella’s will continue with the increased support of the Food Bank as the pandemic progresses, as long as people need them.

Visit rotellasbakery.com for more information.

This article was printed in the October/November 2020 issue of B2B Magazine.