For a week, Mary Katherine Zarzour Williams watched on social media as her friend Caroline Elliott, a former nurse, raised thousands of dollars to buy meals from local restaurants for hospital staff in Charlotte, N.C. Recently laid off herself, Williams thought what a good idea that was.
And she kept thinking about it. She needed something to do, she says. Finally, her husband asked her, “Why don’t you do that fundraiser?”
So she posted on her Instagram story that she was raising money to place orders at Mobile-area restaurants to feed employees at local hospitals. She figured she could order 100 meals at $10 each, plus a 20% tip.
“I was blown away by the response,” she says. “People were enthusiastic about being able to support restaurants and hospitals at the same time.”
Donations were coming in so quickly that she had to change the fundraiser from Venmo to GoFund Me, which also allowed her to share updates and photos. “It’s been amazing,” she says. “The restaurants are so grateful and eager to help. I can’t tell you how incredible it’s been to work with them.”
In a week, she had raised more than $17,000 and delivered a wide variety of meals to all of the hospitals in Mobile – Springhill Medical Center, Providence Hospital, Mobile Infirmary Medical Center, USA University Hospital and USA Children’s and Women’s Hospital – at least twice, and once to the Mitchell Cancer Institute. She tries to especially remember to cover the night and weekend shifts, which are often forgotten.
Williams and her husband, Davis – they just married in February, right before the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States – have delivered most of the meals themselves, wearing masks and gloves. “The hard part is not getting to hug any of them,” she says of the thankful workers they encounter.
Sometimes the restaurants have opted to make the deliveries, but Williams loves to do it herself so she can take a picture to share on social media. “I love showing pictures to the people who have donated so they can see where their money is going,” she says.
Among the participating restaurants so far are Moe’s BBQ, LoDa Biergarten, China Doll, Ashland Pub, the Dew Drop Inn, Taco Mama, Pollman’s, Ruby Slipper Café, Bake My Day and FOY Superfoods. “I wanted it to be local favorites that people love and support,” Williams says.
Donations have slowed down a little, and she is taking the fundraising day by day. But she hopes she can keep going throughout the pandemic and maybe even beyond. She’s encouraged that her friend in Charlotte, who started two weeks earlier, has raised more than $60,000. Williams hopes to personally thank everyone who has donated, eventually.
“It’s been a really rewarding experience,” she says. “I never imagined it would take off like this.”
She has even been inspired to change her career path, she says. At 27, her work experience so far has focused on social media and marketing. But, as the daughter of the late Dr. Bob Zarzour, an orthopedic surgeon, and the sister of Dr. Grant Zarzour, also an orthopedic surgeon, she has “always had the medical field close to my heart,” she says. Now she’s considering becoming a professional fundraiser in the field.
She and her husband are in Mobile only temporarily. In the fall, he plans to go to law school, although, because of the pandemic, they don’t know where they’ll be living yet. “With this move to a to-be-determined location, maybe this is my sign that this is what I should do when I move,” she says. “As each day goes on, this kind of makes sense.”
To make a donation to this community fundraising effort, click here.
Want to read more good news about Alabama? Sign up for the This is Alabama newsletter here.
This story originally appeared on AL.com.