Look for the Helpers
Local restaurants feed frontline workers and seniors through pandemic
By Greg Sabin
Fred Rogers (Mr. Rogers to you and me) was a constant source of inspiration for generations. He rarely looked away when there was strife or difficult conversations to be had, especially with children. During the Civil Rights Movement, Rogers filmed an episode featuring his African American mailman sharing a cool dip of feet with him in a wading pool. The simple gesture was a strong message during those times of unity, compassion and, of course, neighborliness.
Rogers learned a lot about dealing with difficult situations from his mother. He said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
This month, I looked for the helpers and didn’t have to look far. Restaurateurs have been providing meals for needy families, food insecure seniors and frontline workers throughout the pandemic. Their actions have kept food on the table for those who need it, shown appreciation for those who sacrifice and kept affected restaurant employees working.
Feed the Frontlines 916 delivers meals to essential personnel in the medical and emergency services field throughout the Sacramento area. An offshoot of Feed the Frontlines NYC, which started in New York City and quickly spawned chapters throughout the United States, our local chapter is one of several in California.
Through donations from individuals, corporations and foundations, Feed the Frontlines partners with local restaurants to procure meals that are delivered by volunteers to essential workers. Hospitals, doctors’ offices, nursing homes and fire stations have all received the benefit of this program during the last eight months. The organization partners with restaurants such as Limelight Bar & Cafe, Kru Contemporary Japanese Cuisine, Selland’s Market-Cafe, OBO’ Italian Table & Bar, The Golden Bear, Tapa the World, Hook & Ladder and Kodaiko Ramen & Bar.
One of the founders, Wendy Will Mikacich, reports the obvious worksites to partner with at first were the large hospitals that were overrun with early COVID-19 cases and whose employees were working round the clock in intensely stressful situations. “Once the first wave of cases started to die down,” Mikacich says, “we realized that local nursing home staffs were not to be overlooked and were battling the coronavirus just as hard as the hospitals.”
By expanding to nursing homes, Mikacich and her partners Ann Martin Rolke and Beth Abad served more of the medical community and partnered with an ever-expanding group of restaurants.
I was fortunate enough to tag along on a recent delivery of meals from Limelight to a local nursing home. The coordinator who collected the meals from us at the door was nearly in tears. “It’s been a very tough day here,” she said, “and this will help the staff press on.”
Another program, Great Plates Delivered, feeds vulnerable seniors through restaurant meal deliveries. This statewide program transforms FEMA dollars into meals for housebound seniors.
Clay Nutting of Canon, Patrick Mulvaney of Mulvaney’s B&L, Oliver Ridgeway of Camden Spit & Larder, and Deneb Williams of Allora and Woodlake Tavern were working on several different private charitable food-delivery programs at the outset of the pandemic. When Gov. Gavin Newsom got wind of their programs, he secured FEMA funding to turn the programs into a statewide focus of helping seniors and keeping restaurants in business.
“It’s an essential program,” Williams says. “Essential in keeping my doors open, in keeping my employees working, and essential to keeping those we serve safe.”
Working with FEMA funding, however, has its own challenges. The majority of the money for the program is renewed on a month-by-month basis, making it a bit difficult to make long-term plans. Numerous restaurants have participated in the program, including those listed above and other local favorites like Viet Ha Noodles & Grill.
The best way to help yourself is to help others. These professionals in the service industry know what it means to be of service. For more information, go to covid19.ca.gov/restaurants-deliver-home-meals-for-seniors and feedthefrontlines916.org.
Greg Sabin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.