Like so many of us, Dara Marans Shapiro checks the coronavirus news first thing in the morning. As the virus rampaged across countries and cities, she felt a frustrating helplessness.
But instead of accepting her helplessness, she became determined to find a way to make a direct, positive impact on the situation.
About three weeks ago, Ms. Shapiro — who is 29 years old and now lives in Manhattan, but grew up in Teaneck — began an ambitious initiative that came to be called Feeding the Frontlines. (It’s online at wearefeedingthefrontlines.com.)
“I have several friends working in healthcare, and I am aware that they work 12- to 18-hour shifts,” Ms. Shapiro said. “They don’t have time to get food during the day under normal circumstances and during covid even less, yet they are expending even more energy caring for others.”
Ms. Shapiro asked her circle of friends to contribute toward buying food from local businesses for hospital workers in New York and New Jersey. She saw it as a win-win, supporting struggling local eateries while providing nutrition for the heroes in the hospitals.
“A couple of days later I had $2,000,” she said. “Healthcare workers were hearing about the project and reaching out to me, and I realized there was a real demand for this type of initiative — both from healthcare workers and from donors,
“People really want to contribute.”
Ms. Shapiro then set up a GoFundMe campaign (www.gofundme.com/f/we-are-feeding-the-frontlines) to raise $20,000. The goal has since been upped to $25,000 and will remain changeable depending on how long the crisis continues.
“We are feeding healthcare workers fighting on the covid-19 frontlines while supporting local small businesses,” the campaign page explains. “Every $10 donated provides 1 meal.”
Within 10 days, Feeding the Frontlines had amassed $18,000 and began making arrangements with local restaurants to deliver 500 meals per week. So far, employees at 18 hospitals have received the free food.
Everything is coordinated remotely by Ms. Shapiro and “an amazing team of 10 volunteers,” who have daily check-ins before their workday. Most of the volunteers work full time; Ms. Shapiro is a senior strategist associate at a large banking institution.
“We focus mainly on outer-borough hospitals and community hospitals, given that the better-known hospitals in Manhattan are getting more assistance,” she said. “We identify a healthcare team — everyone from environmental services and transport staff to nurses and doctors — on the covid frontlines who would benefit from a sponsored meal. Then we choose a local small business restaurant and send individually wrapped meals to the healthcare team.”
The Teaneck Volunteer Ambulance Corps and Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck are among the group’s the beneficiaries. “I grew up in a community and educational system where ‘chesed,’ or acts of kindness, were always valued and respected,” Ms. Shapiro said; she learned those values from many people, chief among them her parents, Nina Kampler and Dr. Zvi Marans.
“One of the phrases from Ethics of the Fathers that has had the most impact on me is ‘Bimkom she-ain anashim hishtadel lihiyot ish,’ which literally means ‘Where there are no people, try to be one.’
“To me it means that in a circumstance where there is no person stepping up, someone should step up to the opportunity. I felt there was a need that wasn’t being addressed on a grassroots level, and I wanted to do my part.”
The Jewish value of “hakarat hatov” — of showing gratitude — also was an important motivation, she added. “We rely on our healthcare workers to get us through this crisis. If I’m in a position to recognize the good efforts of others, I want to do that.”
The gratitude goes both ways. Feeding the Frontlines receives many thank-you messages.
“You have no idea how much we appreciate it! We are so busy that we don’t have time to leave and get food so this is such a treat. It was food for the soul to end a hard night,” wrote a nurse manager on the adult covid unit at New York-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist.
“Thank you to this amazing grassroots organization who made sure that my fellow Sinai internal medicine residents and I did not go hungry this weekend! It was so nice to not have to think about our next meal and to have the morale boost of knowing others are thinking about us and trying to keep us fed,” wrote a physician working in Mt. Sinai East’s ICU.
Ms. Shapiro and her team make sure the supplying restaurants meet each receiving hospital’s food-safety guidelines for preparing and packaging the meals.
“Several restaurants we’ve coordinated with have expressed interest in donating to our cause as well and giving us a discount on the food,” Ms. Shapiro said. “I have been resisting that because one of our pillars is supporting local businesses. A lot of restaurants are open only for takeout and rely on funding like this to keep going.”
For more information about the project, contact Ms. Shapiro at email@example.com. Follow @feedingthefrontlines on Instagram for real-time updates. If you want to donate, you can either go directly to the gofundmepage, or start at wearefeedingthefrontlines.com and click the donate button.