The heroes during the COVID-19 pandemic who forever will be remembered are our health care professionals. Doctors, nurses, emergency medical technicians, and other medical professionals are on the front lines of that fight.
Generous individuals across America are responding to the sacrifice—long hours and putting themselves at risk of the contagion—of our health care workers with the universal love language of food.
“For a lot of these folks [medical personnel], they are working nonstop hours. They don’t have time to prepare food at home. They don’t have time to go grocery shopping, and they can’t order in, because there is nothing local that will deliver for a lunch,” said Bethany Mandel, founder of Kosher19. “And so, we have heard more times than I could possibly count, ‘If this meal had not come, I would not have eaten during my shift, and my shift is 12 hours long.’”
Not only do the meals help our medical professionals, but the food orders supply desperately needed business to local restaurants forced to limit sales to carryout.
The twin goals of helping health care professionals and providing sales to hard-hit restaurants were the driving force behind several individuals starting their own initiatives to send meals to hospital workers.
Mandel’s love of pizza opened the door to what has now become a national operation to supply food to thousands of health care workers.
As restaurants began to close in her Washington, D.C., suburb of Silver Spring, Maryland, due to COVID-19, she worried her favorite kosher pizza restaurant would not survive the lockdown.
“We keep kosher in our home, and so I have a personal, vested interest in keeping kosher restaurants alive,” Mandel, 34, told The Daily Signal in a phone interview. “If your local pizzeria goes out of business, you can go to another pizzeria. If my local pizzeria goes out of business, there is no more pizza.”
Concern for the pizzeria’s ability to weather the financial storm brought on by COVID-19 led Mandel to consider ways in which she could provide business to other kosher restaurants.
“I was thinking … how could I make a nice big order to help them out? I thought maybe I could send [pizza] to my girlfriend’s [emergency room],” she said.
Mandel posted on Facebook, explaining her idea and askig for donations to raise enough money for a large order. In just an hour, she had raised all she needed.
Sending the pizzas to the hospital was “fun” and “really easy,” said Mandel, which got her thinking: “Why not do it again?”
“I posted on Twitter, and I said, ‘Venmo me if you want to send money to New York-Presbyterian [Hospital],’” Mandel said, explaining that her friend’s son is a doctor at the hospital. “And at the end of the night, I had like $7,000.” Venmo is a mobile application that allows individuals to send money through the app to other Venmo users.
Now, she had a problem, but a good one: She had to use all the money that was sent to her to order food from local restaurants and deliver it to health care workers.
“I started calling around to different hospitals and being like, ‘Can I send you food? How can I do that?’ I wanted to sort of justify to people that I was spending their money responsibly, so I kept on tweeting pictures of the deliveries and then people kept on sending me money,” she said.
At that point, Mandel recognized that she needed to turn the effort into a nonprofit, and called a friend who created a website for Kosher19. Mandel solicited the help of other friends, and together they have raised more than $75,000 and sent more than 10,000 meals to 188 hospitals in 11 states and the District of Columbia.
By her sending kosher meals, those who do keep kosher are able to enjoy the meal with everyone else on their floor.
“I wanted to send kosher food to everyone so that they could break bread together. It’s a nice opportunity for … floor bonding, that they can all share a meal together,” Mandel said.
Mandel says she and her team of volunteers plan to continue ordering and sending meals until they have spent all the money being donated.
2. Feed the Heroes DMV
Washington, D.C., emergency room nurse Anaelise Martinez and her roommate, Azure McFarlane, posted on Facebook on March 30, asking their friends to help them send food from the restaurant Buffalo & Bergen to the medical personnel at Prince George’s Hospital Center emergency room in Cheverly, Maryland, just outside of Washington.
Within 24 hours, they had exceeded their $700 goal and launched a formal fundraising campaign called Feed the Heroes DMV. The “DMV” is shorthand for the District of Columbia and its suburbs in Maryland and Virginia.
“We want to continue spreading the love to our health care staff and first responders in the DMV,” McFarlane wrote on her Facebook page on March 31.
The roommates and their friends have continued to raise thousands of dollars to purchase meals from Buffalo & Bergen and deliver them to health care workers at hospitals across the Washington, D.C., metro area.
The Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington, D.C.-based think tank and the parent organization of The Daily Signal, and many generous individuals have partnered with Feed the Heroes DMV to supply the resources needed to purchase hundreds of meals to medical professionals.
On April 24, donations from The Heritage Foundation and others allowed Feed the Heroes to deliver 300 meals to MedStar Washington Hospital Center, feeding an entire shift of workers. The meal delivery was timely, as the hospital’s cafeteria was closed that day. The Heritage Foundation hopes to make the donation a weekly gift.
Howard University Hospital in the District of Columbia is next to receive meals, according to the Feed the Heroes’ Facebook page.
Buffalo & Bergen owner Gina Chersevani says she would not be able to keep her doors open if it were not for the orders from Feed the Heroes DMV.
“I need the business to survive, so how cool is it to be able to keep the restaurant going [and] feed the people that need it?” she said.
Chersevani praised the work of Martinez and her friends saying, “I am impressed … . She is just doing the right thing because it’s innately in this girl. So, how could that not be contagious to help?”
The restaurant has gone from having 37 employees at two Buffalo & Bergen restaurant locations in Washington, D.C., to just three full-time and two part-time employees.
In addition to helping to cover the costs for the meal orders, The Heritage Foundation has also captured the attention of The Washington Post and the appreciation of Chersevani for forgoing Buffalo & Bergen’s rent for up to six months.
Eric Korsvall, vice president of operations at the think tank, manages Massachusetts Avenue Properties, which includes Buffalo & Bergen’s 240 Massachusetts Ave. NE location. The break in rent is allowing the bar and bagel restaurant to continue doing what they do so well; namely, feeding people tasty food.
“Eric has really been wonderful. … He really is a different person. He is very giving … . It is just refreshing. He is like the twist of lemon on a very dry martini,” Chersevani said. “You are not really sure what to expect from The Heritage Foundation, and you know, like Capitol Hill and all those people, and then you put a little lemon zest on it, and it brightens the whole thing up. So that is what he [Korsvall] is like to me.”
Noe Landini, managing director of Junction Bistro and Bakery, another business managed by Massachusetts Avenue Properties, this week plans to join neighboring Buffalo & Bergen in supplying meals to Feed the Heroes. Landini is also a member of The Heritage Foundation’s National Coronavirus Recovery Commission.
At a time when so many people are asking how they can help, Chersevani says we all can and should do something to help those in need.
“And I keep saying to people, you know, the hospital workers or the fire department, they are like our front-line defense on getting the people the help that they need … . If you have anything to give; it might be time. … Or you got your stimulus check, and you don’t need it. Give it away! … Make a difference,” she said. “It’s amazing how good it feels to change someone’s day.”
Ellen Carmichael wanted to do something to help her friend’s sister, who is a hospital intensive-care unit nurse at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. Carmichael, a resident of Washington, D.C., and a group of her friends launched a fundraiser to raise enough money to send the ICU nurse and her team a nourishing meal.
They raised $1,800 in just four hours. Their success motivated them to provide more nutritious meals to hospital workers.
“We decided to continue our effort to serve front-line medical professionals in other coronavirus hot spots, including New Orleans, Seattle, Detroit, and Chicago,” Carmichael, 32, told The Daily Signal in an email. “In addition to feeding the front-line heroes, we wanted to support local restaurants and caterers, as well as their delivery drivers. Everyone wins!”
In just one week, Carmichael and her friends raised $8,000 and sent 790 meals to feed front-line anti-COVID-19 workers.
One of the priorities of the fundraiser was also to send food to the night-shift hospital workers. Carmichael and her friends found restaurants and caterers who could deliver food late into the evening.
“We had heard from hospital staff that this had been an issue, as most restaurants could only deliver during the daytime,” she said. “Having fresh food for the overnight support staff who were working so hard to keep the hospitals clean and safe, in addition to the medical professionals, was really special.”
The grassroots campaign was successful due to the outpouring of help from friends and strangers alike. Even the United Cajun Navy, a nonprofit that organizes search-and-rescue operations during natural disasters, stepped in to help, promoting the fundraiser and providing hygienic transportation of meals to New Orleans East Hospital.
Carmichael said it has been overwhelming to see the outpouring of resources from so many different people across our nation, adding:
Americans are innately generous and kind. Even as so many are struggling, they are also thinking about the tremendous sacrifices our medical professionals have made for our communities.
With our options so limited with social distancing and lockdowns, this informal fundraiser was an opportunity for us all to actually do something that could make a difference, not only for the hospitals, but also for the food-service industry during such a challenging time.
It was our honor to help.