Several Brooklyn restaurants are teaming up with a local Brooklyn organization to provide meals for hospital workers whose cafeterias have been shut down.
Operation Feed Brooklyn has been providing meals since the COVID-19 pandemic with the help of several Industry City based eateries.
In just one day in April, 100 meals were provided by Avocaderia and One Girl Cookies.
In total, the group has donated over 9,000 meals, 6,500 cups of coffee and 1,000 snacks.
Founder of Operation Feed Brooklyn Michelle Zassenhaus told this paper about her inspiration and what the group has accomplished thus far.
“I woke one day, literally looking at my phone in bed feeling helpless, and posted right there for friends to Venmo me so I could raise money, order from a restaurant in my neighborhood and deliver the food to the local ER,” she said. “I didn’t even know how I’d get someone to receive it. I called and called and eventually accidentally called the gift shop and got a [bored] human being who connected me with the right people.”
Zassenhaus added that, “It felt good for everyone involved, and it was clear there was something to this, so I opened a gofundme and got the ball rolling on something bigger. Two months later, we’ve raised and returned $100,00 to the local community and few thousands of front line workers.”
Operation Feed Brooklyn has five coordinators, a finance person, a social media person, some regular delivery people and a list of volunteers they get for various tasks.
“Some of these folks have been furloughed or have no income and note repeatedly that helping is giving them something to hold on to,” she said. “That said, I’ve been clear with everyone that I don’t want anyone to burn out before we’re done so we try to distribute the effort as smartly as we can.”
Industry City has played an integral part of distributing meals.
“They have been a tremendous partner,” Zassenhaus said. “Lauren Danziger and Jim Somoza in particular have worked very hard to get their eateries lined, up, and often make three-times weekly deliveries themselves. The sites they deliver to are complicated, too, and Lauren has done a lot of the heavy lifting coordinating and organizing. Many IC restaurants have contributed to the mission, both as paid partners but also as donors – often donating snacks, extras, or reducing the cost of their meals.”`
The group’s donations are typically meals, usually individually-wrapped lunches for 100 people.
“Sometimes we also coordinate snacks,” she said. For instance yesterday, we arranged for Maimonides ER to get 100 cupcakes which were donated by Nine Cakes from Carroll Gardens. Over the past week, our sites have gotten incredible meals.”
So far, the group has donated meals to NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital, Maimonides Medical Center, NYC Health + Hospitals/Woodhull and SUNY Downstate Medical Center.
For Operation Feed Brooklyn, it means everything to give back to first responders.
“In many ways, we’re getting a very small glimpse of what it’s like to be in the position they chose for their livelihoods: our business is about helping,” said Zassenhaus. “Most of us, I think our businesses are about making money, surviving. But when it comes to your business, it’s about helping others, it’s a whole different dynamic. It feels rewarding, full, important. And in many ways, I think in times that feel bleak, it’s buoying myself and I know it’s holding up the spirits of everyone involved.”
100% of the group’s funds go to food for responders. They are all volunteers and thus far, the response has been widely positive.
“The reaction, for the most part, has been focused more on the morale this service provides than the actual nourishment,” she said. “ I’ve spoken with heads of ED teams that note that their teams are somewhat traumatized by the experience of Covid response – they have had to make difficult decisions, work outside their expertise, work extra hours, and watch people suffer in ways they’ve never seen – all with the added stress of insufficient PPE, or even if they have it, having to donn it and remove it over and over is also stressful. They note that having a beautiful, heartfelt meal appear, sent by your community and prepared with love, does so much for their spirits on a daily basis.”
Engineering Supervisor at NYU Langone Brooklyn Stephen Eng wrote a letter to Zassenhaus to thank her and Operation Feed Brooklyn for supplying lunch at the hospital’s engineering department.
On Monday, April 20th, the engineering department was treated to a donated lunch by Kotti Doner and delivered by the group.
“For the past several weeks the Engineering department has worked hard to keep the hospital operating with the flood of Covid-19 patients,” he wrote. “Everyone is overworked, stressed and feeling unappreciated. From the guys who keep the oxygen flowing to the ventilators and OR’s, the plumbers who keep the water flowing to the dialysis machines, HVAC technicians who maintain the air flow to the infected areas, the electricians who make sure there is no interruption of power to the hospital, the engineering supervisors who control the heating and cooling in the building and all the engineering support staff.”
He added, “I want to thank you and Operation Feed Brooklyn for brightening our day through this dark pandemic. We couldn’t do what we do without the recognition and support from you and your team.”
Zassenhaus was touched by the letter.
“It’s clear that we’re feeding a lot more than bellies with this mission,” she said.
Raising funds has also been successful. Thus far, Operation Feed Brooklyn raised about $100,000 from the community, including about $2,500 a week in recurring funds.
We’ve heard from people who have lost jobs and only have $10 to give, Zassenhaus said. “We’ve gotten money from kids who saved up and donated. From relatives of first responders, patrons of restaurants who want to help them survive, and wealthy individuals who give anonymously but call me up to ask how else they can support my mission. The response has been amazing.”
Although Zassenhaus has been pleased with the work but knows that there is more to be done.
“Operation Feed Brooklyn has been an incredible journey, but it’s clear to me as time goes on, and we get more and more requests for help, that it’s a bandage, not a solution,” she said. “We need to start thinking about the fall, when everyone anticipates a second wave. How can we create a more sustainable solution, for both frontline workers AND restaurants? This is what I’m thinking about the most these days.”
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