Birmingham citizens, organizations give back to restaurants, health care community during COVID-19 crisis

Birmingham citizens, organizations give back to restaurants, health care community during COVID-19 crisis
Organizations are helping keep restaurants busy and paid while feeding overworked hospital staff. (contributed)

Working long hours every day treating patients, some suffering from deadly COVID-19, was not enough for Dr. Brandon White. He wanted to do more.

As a doctor at UAB Medical West in Bessemer, White knows firsthand that with the rising number of intensive care unit patients, health care workers barely have time to stop for lunch, especially if it means leaving to get a meal. White saw how the coronavirus quarantine is affecting restaurant owners who are reducing staff and shortening business hours while still paying the same bills as before. He got the idea of creating BHMcares, a coordinated effort to deliver meals from local restaurants to Birmingham hospitals.

“My friends who own restaurants are feeling the financial crush during this time and, yet, they have been asking me: ‘What can we do to help you and other health care workers?’” said White. “It just made sense to me to link these groups who are both feeling the emotional and financial strain.”

Since BHMcares launched March 30, it has collected nearly $40,000 in donations and delivered more than 1,300 meals to COVID-19 isolation units, intensive care units and emergency rooms at hospitals across the city.

Each day, the featured restaurant changes, along with the hospital receiving food. Thus far, 50 restaurants have signed up to prepare meals. BHMcares is partnering with Ultra Motorcars in Birmingham to make the deliveries.

White said with the tremendous response, he plans to expand the program to include meal drop-offs at COVID drive-through testing centers, urgent care facilities and labs with staff members working hands-on treating patients with the disease.

“I just can’t thank the people of Birmingham enough,” said White. “You don’t know how grateful the people in the hospitals are to get the food. It makes all the difference to us who are working on the front lines.”

Visit www.bhmcares.com/ for more information about how to help feed Birmingham’s health care workers.

Three friends and an idea reap results

Will Baker, of Birmingham, is also reaching out through his meal delivery service to help restauranteurs and health care workers.

“I got the idea of delivering meals from restaurants to health care workers from an article I read about a similar concept in San Francisco, which was hit hard by the coronavirus before we were,” Baker said. “It seemed like a simple concept.”

Baker enlisted the help of his wife, Susannah, and a long-time Birmingham friend, Rip Andrews. Together, the three are heading up Meals for Healthcare Heroes.

“The first day we delivered about 50 sandwiches from local restaurant, Over Easy, to a COVID testing unit in Birmingham,” Will said, adding that was on March 25. “Now, we’re delivering about 80 meals a day to local hospitals.”

Baker said the key to this program has been the Meals for Healthcare Heroes Webpage on Signup Genius.

Health care team leaders can request meals for their hospital units via the website. Will or Susannah will find a restaurant that can provide meals and post the cost of feeding that unit on the site.

People or businesses can sign up to sponsor the unit and contact the restaurant directly to arrange to pay for those staff member’s meals. A tax-deductible donation to the effort can be made via a link on the website. The restaurant, the sponsor or the Bakers will make the deliveries, depending on what works best in each situation.

The demand has been great, Baker said. Meals for Healthcare Heroes is making three deliveries a day and plans to expand to four.

“We want to continue this effort as long as there is a need,” Baker said. “The big orders are helping the local restaurants that really need the business. The effort also helps the nurses and doctors, who are working such long hours, to have good food brought to them.”

Caring on a big scale

CareHealth, sponsored by Urban Avenues, is another program providing much-needed meals to busy nurses, doctors and health care workers, while generating revenue for restaurants.

With many restaurants and grocery stores closing early as health care professionals work12-hour shifts, there’s often no time to buy food when medical staffers get off the job, said Madison Kerns. That’s why Urban Avenues is collecting donations and delivering meals to hospitals.

“We are excited to utilize this model that helps both restaurant and health care workers,” said Kerns, director of operations at Urban Avenues. “Our hearts have been breaking as we realize all the hard decisions that restauranteurs have been making as their business diminishes. We’ve also been hearing about the limited options available to health care workers to eat during the day. We wanted to find a way to help both groups at the same time.”

When CareHealth launched on March 30, restaurants including EastWest, Crestline Bagel and Saw’s Soul Kitchen jumped on board to take orders. In the first week, the organization’s volunteer drivers delivered nearly 500 meals.

Kerns said Urban Avenues is putting safety first throughout the process.

“We’re coordinating with the restaurants to prepare and package the meals individually so we can ensure the safety of the health care workers,” she said. “We’re also providing our drivers with masks, gloves and other sanitary materials they need to safely transport food.”

Kerns said although the amount each day varies, it costs about $400 to feed a health care department of 40 people and $800 to feed the staff in an emergency room. Businesses or individuals can sponsor a department, or CareHealth can choose one and a restaurant within a budget.

Nominate a health care department, make a donation or volunteer to become a delivery driver by visiting www.urbanavenues.com/carehealth. Health care departments can submit a request to receive meals. Requests must be made 48 hours before the preferred delivery date.

“Urban Avenues was founded on the idea that people are at their best when they connect around passions and learn new ways of knowing and caring about each other,” said John Lankford, founder of Urban Avenues. “CareHealth offers a double dividend for every dollar invested. Health care providers get meals amidst their battle and the light stays on for our food community due to the good people that are investing.”

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