Donations for meals are helping hospital workers and keeping restaurants going
Around Milwaukee, people are doing two good deeds with one kind act: They’re donating money for meals for hospital workers during the coronavirus pandemic and at the same time supporting restaurants and their employees.
Last week’s announcement of the high-profile, large-scale campaign involving Milwaukee Brewers standouts Christian Yelich and Ryan Braun shone a spotlight on the work being done to feed health care workers. The athletes are donating in partnership with 3rd Street Market Hall and Wisconsin companies American Family Insurance, Associated Bank, Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Co. and Sargento.
But the campaigns are large, small and in between. One that’s organized by the neighborhood bakery-cafe Miss Molly’s, 9201 W. Center St., started collecting money from donors March 21.
In each of the first two weeks, owner Molly Sullivan said, 150 to 200 boxed lunches were delivered to hospitals including Froedtert, Ascension St. Joseph’s, Ascension Columbia St. Mary’s and Aurora Mount Sinai.
“We wouldn’t be able to do it without the community donating all that money,” Sullivan said. “We’re just providing a platform for it. We’re the middle man.”
The campaign started when a cousin of hers who lives out of state said she wished she could get a takeout meal kit that Sullivan began selling when dining rooms were ordered closed in March. Her cousin asked if she could instead buy meals for a local hospital or police department, and the idea was hatched.
Sullivan put a donate button on her pastry shop’s website under the Shop tab, and donations began flowing in at $15 a boxed lunch. Her husband, Lee Rowley, delivers the lunches two or three times a week. Donors who order 10 or more boxes can specify a destination; otherwise, the cafe groups them and donates 75 at a time, to places like a hospital’s emergency department or to the workers at Froedtert’s COVID-19 floor, she said.
“People have said they don’t know how to help, or they want to help in some way, but we’re not supposed to leave our homes,” Sullivan said.
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The donations let them help essential workers and first responders, she said, but they help the cafe, too.
“It keeps us in business. Our employees are here making the food and getting paid, and we ‘re getting the food to people who need it,” Sullivan said.
Meals Matter Movement
A new campaign called the Meals Matter Movement, started by a Milwaukee family, is centered on Milwaukee’s east side.
It points donors to Ma Fischer’s diner, 2214 N. Farwell Ave., where they can call (414) 271-7424 to contribute $10 or more for meals for nurses and doctors at nearby Columbia St. Mary’s. This week, 50 meals will be sent to police officers and firefighters.
Lori Klosowski, whose two sons have worked at Ma Fischer’s, said she envisions more people starting Meals Matter chapters in their own neighborhoods and communities to support their nearby health care workers, first responders and local restaurants.
Already, one has started in Oak Creek, she said. It supplies meals for the Ascension SE Wisconsin Hospital-Franklin Campus through Jim Dandy’s.
Her family felt moved to start the campaign after tracking news of the virus beginning in January. They had a keen interest in it because the family was in quarantine for her and her husband’s 19-year-old son, Sam, who had a stem cell transplant for cancer treatment about two months ago.
They’d spent a good deal of time around nurses and doctors in that time, and health care workers were on the family’s minds.
“How can we help, how can our family help?” Klosowski said, recalling her family’s conversations about the pandemic. “We can’t be sad and depressed every day. We have to help.”
The group’s immediate goal is to provide 50 meals a day on the emergency department’s two busiest days. The group’s website each Monday tallies how many meals have been served.
Klosowski said she hopes the program will grow to other hospital departments and to first responders.
Feed Our Frontline
One of the larger campaigns to bring meals to health care workers during the pandemic is Feed Our Frontline Hospital Staff MKE, which has a goal of raising $25,000 through a GoFundMe account.
Started March 21, it raised about $16,000 in its first two weeks, and the total continues to climb; $5,515 alone, as of last week, came from a portion of “We’re in this together” T-shirt sales by Artery Ink.
Christina Wilson Berger of Brookfield, who launched the campaign with her friend Preetha Kurudiyara, said they hope to deliver more than 3,000 meals.
The first drop-off at Froedtert was 80 meals, and all were claimed in 25 minutes. “We’re doing the right thing here,” Berger said.
By the end of last week, 860 meals were to be delivered.
In March, Berger and her husband were discussing the precarious situation restaurants had been thrust into with the closure of dining rooms. “My husband and I both love eating out in Milwaukee a whole lot, and we don’t want to see the restaurants closed,” she said. She also was concerned about the shortage of masks and ventilators that hospitals were facing.
Just then, Kurudiyara texted her about a similar campaign in Chicago that supplied hospital workers with meals from restaurants that were facing steep drops in business. Wilson started the GoFundMe even before having a restaurant lined up.
She spoke with the owners of about 20 restaurants, she said, before friends ultimately helped her connect with Meat on the Street, the Filipino restaurant downtown, and its co-owner Alexa Alfaro.
“She got it, she understood exactly what we needed,” Berger said: individually packaged meals with individually wrapped flatware, a balanced meal that would fuel tired workers and accommodate a range of diets — something gluten-free and vegan included.
“I can’t fix PPE, I can’t fix ventilators,” Berger said, referring to the personal protective equipment and ventilator shortages that have been in the news, “but something I can do is make sure that these people who are going to be working tirelessly are going to have good food in their bodies,” and know that people outside the hospitals doors are supporting them.
Berger was able to coordinate deliveries first with Froedtert and expanded to other hospitals. The deliveries will include more restaurants and add breakfast delivery to serve all shifts.
“We want to stretch it as far as possible and give them good, nourishing food,” Berger said.
Should the pandemic be under control before all the funds are used up, she said, any remaining would be given to the Milwaukee hunger relief group Feeding America. But if the need goes beyond the $25,000 during the pandemic, she said, they’ll keep raising funds.
There’s still time to donate to these and other programs. The organizers have said they plan to continue delivering meals for the duration — however long that is.