PORTLAND– It was the week after Christmas and coronavirus case numbers and hospitalizations were skyrocketing in Portland.
At Oregon Health & & Science University, the state’s biggest hospital, morale was low. Medical professionals and nurses caring for the most critically ill were stressing out simply when they were needed the most.
Then, the food began coming: hot and tasty separately covered meals from some of the city’s trendiest restaurants, a buffet of foods from Chinese to Italian to Lebanese to Southern home cooking. For staffers who only removed their N95 masks once to eat during a 12-hour shift, the meals were more than just food– they were psychological sustenance.
“It’s almost like having actually a weight lifted. It’s like getting a surprise lots roses or something,” nurse Alice Clark stated. “We’re so grateful.”
But the meals, spent for by a wellness grant from the Oregon-based insurance fund SAIF, also served another purpose: They kept struggling restaurants afloat. As fall and after that winter season set in, dining establishments were folding under the stress of a monthslong indoor dining ban. The medical facility orders– sometimes 150 or 160 meals at a time– were a financial lifeline.
“It’s kept the doors open and a small workforce employed. It’s been the most genuine catering we’ve ever done,” stated Kiauna Floyd, third-generation owner of Amalfi’s, a Portland institution that’s been providing Italian food for 62 years.
Floyd’s staff has actually prepared around 500 meals for OHSU, permitting her to keep a core team utilized after laying off three-quarters of her staff members. The dining establishment is presently hopping along with seven tables on an outside patio area in the height of winter, along with takeout orders and pre-packaged meals-to-go.
Amalfi’s focused on manicotti and lasagna dishes for the COVID support meals– and the restaurant’s deliveries have shown to be amongst the most popular with the receivers.
“We want to do something as reassuring as possible so when they are on their break and do get that lunch, it warms their soul,” she stated.
In the meantime, though, meal shipments to OHSU have dried up with the grant funding, and the program ended on Jan. 19. Leaders are wishing for a new funding source to get meals running once again quickly.
The three-week effort paid local restaurants a total of $39,000 at a critical time.
A comparable effort funded by personal donations through a now-defunct not-for-profit called Frontline Foods PDX linked dining establishments with Portland-area hospitals and clinics early in the pandemic, but then donations began to fall off and the effort slowed and after that stopped.
That effort provided about 13,800 meals over three months to six centers, consisting of a veteran’s hospital and a homeless center, and was a significant source of pandemic income for 14 restaurants– a lot of them owned by individuals of color.
“To be able to call and state, ‘Hey, I have $2,000 of organization for you’ is just the most incredible sensation,” said Shannon Tivona, who coordinated meal orders and delivery for OHSU and offered for Frontline Foods in its earlier work.
“The times where we’re not doing anything are truly hard. The restaurant owners call me and state, ‘Do you have anything yet? Do you have anything?’ And it’s heartbreaking to need to say, ‘No, I do not.'”
However a lot of the same restaurants were called upon to provide 2,600 meals to OHSU medical professionals, nurses, physician assistants, custodial personnel and other front-line workers in the emergency clinic and on 2 COVID-focused floors– 3 times a week, for both day and night shifts.
For nurse Henry Valdez, the meals were an important break– and verification that the neighborhood had his back.
“I’ve never been more tired, mentally, physically and mentally. It really has actually drained me,” he said. “When these meals began, I was just in awe. One or two times it brought a tear to my eye, the generosity of individuals, since it has not been a simple year– and the food supplied comfort.”