By Caroline Rice
Brandon Stewart, a local Jimmy John’s franchisee and entrepreneur, began an initiative called Pay It Forward Alabama during the COVID-19 pandemic to raise money and donate Jimmy John’s meals to health care workers in Birmingham-area hospitals.
Since then, Pay It Forward has raised more than $10,000 and fed more than 1,500 medical personnel.
“In the midst of all that was going on, I saw that members of the Birmingham community were in need of special assistance,” Stewart said. “What came of that realization was the Pay It Forward Alabama initiative, in partnership with the Phoenix Club of Birmingham, which served as a means to raise funds and provide meals for health care workers in Alabama. This to me, felt like the most meaningful way I could give back to my own community during a time of crisis,” said Stewart.
Stewart said that most organizations are eager to support and help out wherever they can.
“As a member of The Phoenix Club of Birmingham myself, it felt natural to align Pay It Forward Alabama with their efforts of supporting the Boys & Girls Club of Central Alabama and our city’s youth. Support from these groups comes in a variety of ways – from fundraising to donation of time and resources and more,” said Stewart
As a result of the campaign’s immediate success, Pay It Forward organizers have expanded the focus to help members of the community as needed, including raising funds for Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Alabama and the Birmingham Zoo, which struggled to meet its financial needs because of COVID-19 closures. Kids also are given free lunches at select Jimmy John’s locations, an effort launched to ease the financial burden on local families.
A native of Atlanta, Stewart earned a degree in finance from the University of Georgia and began his professional career as an investment banking analyst, a job in which he moved around the country. His company invested in the Jimmy John’s brand, which sparked Stewart’s interest in becoming a franchisee.
Stewart and his family moved to Birmingham to open the first Jimmy John’s location in the city. He has now built nine franchises in the Birmingham area and has bought one.
Charity work with different organizations has always been important to Stewart. He used the hashtag ‘Pay It Forward’ to explain how he was beginning to help health care workers in the area before he established an organization.
All donations given to Pay It Forward go to their mission, a statistic Stewart and the Pay It Forward initiative value.
Most recently, Pay It Forward held a Father’s Day weekend fundraiser for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Alabama, raising more than $5,000.
Stewart said that, while he doesn’t know where the organization will go, he does know that he wants as much money as possible to go directly to people in need.
“My hope is that Pay It Forward Alabama is an initiative that lives well beyond COVID-19 and has a direct and positive impact on the Birmingham community. It gives me an opportunity to bring awareness to all of (the) wonderful organizations we have in our community,” Stewart said.