At the end of December, coronavirus case numbers and hospitalizations were increasing in Portland, Oregon.
Doctors and nurses caring for the most seriously ill at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) were growing extremely tired just when they were needed the most. Then, some of the city’s most popular restaurants began delivering meals to the hospital.
For workers who only took off their protective face coverings once to eat during a 12-hour work day, the meals were more than just food. “It’s almost like having a weight lifted. It’s like getting a surprise dozen roses or something,” nurse Alice Clark said. “We’re so grateful.”
The meals also served another purpose: They kept struggling restaurants in business. Eateries were closing after a months-long indoor dining ban. The hospital sometimes orders 150 or 160 meals at a time. So their business was a huge help to restaurants.
Kiauna Floyd is the owner of Amalfi’s, a Portland restaurant that has been serving Italian food for 62 years. She said, “It’s kept the doors open and a small workforce employed.”
Workers at the restaurant prepared around 500 meals for OHSU. That permitted Floyd to keep a number of her people working after dismissing 75 percent of her employees. The restaurant is currently struggling to stay in business with limited outdoor seating, orders for carry out and pre-prepared meals-to-go.
Amalfi’s meals brought to the hospital proved to be among the most popular with the health workers at OHSU.
Floyd said, “We want to do something as comforting as possible so when they are on their break and do get that lunch, it warms their soul.”
For now, though, meal deliveries to OHSU have stopped because the program paying for them ended on January 19. Leaders are hoping to find more money to get meals running again soon. The three-week effort paid local eateries a total of $39,000.
A similar effort was paid for by private donations through the nonprofit organization Frontline Foods PDX. The group connected restaurants with Portland-area hospitals and clinics early in the pandemic. But then donations began to decrease, and the effort slowed and then stopped.
That effort provided about 13,800 meals over three months to six health services, including a veteran’s hospital and a homeless clinic. It was important support for 14 restaurants.
Shannon Tivona organized meal orders and delivery for OHSU and volunteered for Frontline Foods in its earlier work. “To be able to call and say, ‘Hey, I have $2,000 of business for you’ is just the most incredible feeling,” she said.
“The times where we’re not doing anything are really tough. The restaurant owners call me and say, ‘Do you have anything yet? Do you have anything?’ And it’s heartbreaking to have to say, ‘No, I don’t.’”
But many of the same restaurants were called upon to deliver 2,600 meals to OHSU health workers. For nurse Henry Valdez, the meals were a necessary break.
“I’ve never been more tired, mentally, physically and emotionally,” he said. “When these meals started, I was just in awe. One or two times it brought a tear to my eye, the generosity of people, because it has not been an easy year — and the food provided comfort.”
I’m Jonathan Evans.
Gillian Flaccus reported on this story for the Associated Press. Jonathan Evans adapted this story for Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.
Words in This Story
dozen –n. a group of twelve people or things
grateful –adj. feeling or showing thanks
comforting –adj. describing something that makes people feel less upset, worried or scared
soul –n. the spiritual part of a person
delivery –n. the act of taking something to a person or place
clinic –n. a place where people can get medical help that is not as large as a hospital
generosity –n. the quality of being kind, understanding and not selfish