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Photos: Off Their Plate
Off Their Plate cooks and delivers healthful meals to healthcare workers.

Amid government failures, can individual efforts ever be enough in a catastrophe like today’s?  I think they can be because feeling good about doing something concrete feeds on itself and simultaneously inspires others. You are probably doing things yourself, like donating to a food bank or calling friends you don’t normally call who are at home alone.

Suzanne, for example, has signed up on Twitter to promote a desperate call from Rhode Island emergency doctors for masks and other personal protection equipment (PPE). Please write in Comments what you are up to. No matter how small, I am interested.

Devra First has a nice story at the Boston Globe, “With restaurants closed for dine-in business, the industry is suffering, and many people have lost their jobs. At the same time, workers on the front lines of the coronavirus don’t have time to prepare nutritious meals to help keep them going. A new organization, Off Their Plate, is working to address both problems.

“It began when Natalie Guo, a medical student at Harvard who previously worked in business, reached out to local chefs Ken Oringer (Little Donkey, Toro, and more) and Tracy Chang (Pagu). The idea: Raise money to provide meals to health care workers, and pay cooks now out of work to make them.

‘In 10 days, we raised something like $80,000,’ Guo says, and the effort has expanded to New York, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

“By [March 26], its fifth day of operation in Boston, Off Their Plate had served close to 1,000 meals in the area — to Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham and Women’s, Faulkner, Boston Medical Center, and Beth Israel Deaconess, with more coming soon, including Carney Hospital, Boston Health Care for the Homeless, and other federally qualified health centers. Meals go to everyone from nurses to hazmat teams to the people working the front desk. ‘It’s a massive effort here,’ Guo says. ‘It’s not just MDs. Very soon this is going to consume the entire health force.’

One hundred percent of donations go to wages and meal costs. According to a ticker on the website [March 27], Off Their Plate has so far raised enough to cover 6,500 meals, more than 2,000 work hours, and $32,500 in wages. A $100 donation covers the cost of providing 10 meals.

“ ‘It’s been really fortuitous to be able to get a lot of the people who are not able to collect unemployment or people we decided to reach out to … and be able to help them earn some money,’ Oringer says. ‘A lot of them have been with us for more than 10 years. We are trying to take care of our family and our community. We’re getting food from purveyors, from fishermen, who are getting really, really hurt by all of this.’ …

“They are creating recipes and safety protocols that can be passed along to partner chefs in other cities, so they too can join the effort. ‘We want to make sure we are taking the utmost precaution in the health and safety of our own employees and the people they are feeding. The last thing we want to do is be part of the problem,’ Chang says.” More here.

Erin Kuschner has another take on the story at Boston.com, which is separate but related to the Boston Globe. She adds, “Guo, who was doing her clinical rotation at Massachusetts General Hospital before she launched Off Their Plate, is amazed by the charitable actions of everyone involved.

“ ‘Our goal is to serve Boston as well as we can, which means getting to volunteer for the homeless and getting to areas where healthcare workers are really in need,’ she said.”  The unemployed restaurant workers get paid, but not the others involved. Of them Guo says, ‘Not a single person has asked for a single dollar of service, and that’s just really incredible.’ ”

Off Their Plate meals being prepared before delivery.

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Photo: Chelsea Call
A young girl plants a seedling at the ASRI clinic in Gunung Palung National Park in Borneo, where a nonprofit enables patients to pay for medical care without resorting to illegal logging.

The radio show “Living on Earth,’ Public Radio International’s environmental news magazine, is a great source of stories about nature, climate change, and ecological initiatives worldwide. In this episode, we learn that medical costs in Borneo were the main reason that communities were illegally cutting down trees. And we see how one visionary addressed the danger to the rainforest by first asking the local community what needed to be done.

“Gunung Palung National Park on the island of Borneo is home to diverse species found nowhere else, and beloved by the people who live on the Indonesian island. But like many people who live near tropical forests, they have at times had to resort to illegal logging to pay for healthcare. Now the nonprofit Health in Harmony is providing healthcare that patients can pay for with a simple trade of labor, seedlings or manure, so that no one ever has to log to pay cash for essential health services. Founder Kinari Webb and Host Bobby Bascomb discuss the importance of listening to what forest communities say they need in order to stop logging.

“BASCOMB: The rainforests of Borneo are some of the oldest tropical forests in world, roughly 130,000 years old. And because they evolved on an isolated island the forests are teeming with endemic species found nowhere else on earth. From highly endangered orangutans, tigers, and rhinos to pygmy elephants just five feet tall.

“Borneo’s Gunung Palung National Park is a critical habitat for many of the island’s endangered species and a huge carbon sink – crucial in our fight against climate change. The rainforest was also being deforested at an alarming rate when Kinari Webb first visited in the early 90’s. Kinari was a student at the time, but she was so alarmed by the deforestation she saw that she went on to found the nonprofit Health in Harmony, which aims to keep the forest healthy by keeping people healthy. …

“WEBB: I first went to Borneo when I was an undergraduate. I took a year off and spent a year deep in the rainforest studying orangutans. And Gunung Palung National Park is considered the jewel in the crown of all the Indonesian national parks. … There’s a lot of people who live right around the park, about 60,000 people. They love the forest as well. …

“They want it to be there for future generations. But the logging was rampant, it was completely out of control. … I was just so angry at these people. But then I realized, and I talked to many of them, and what they told me was, you know, if my child is sick, or my family member is sick, I have no choice and it’s one of the only ways to get cash. … One medical emergency can cost an entire year’s income. …

“That just broke my heart. How can that be? And how can we be allowing that to be? So I ended up going to medical school and returning to Indonesia so that I could try to work on this intersection between human and environmental health.

“BASCOMB: You call it radical listening, the way that you discovered what these people need and how to help them. Can you tell me more? …

WEBB: We actually do what people say. And that is wildly unusual in the way that development is done and conservation is done. … We ask them, what would you all need as a thank you from the world community so that you could actually protect this precious forest that you all are guardians of?

“And it was amazing because every single community and everywhere we’ve been, it’s been the same, that every community will independently come to a solution that is the same in a given region. So around Gunung Palung, it was we need access to healthcare, and we need training and organic farming. And if we have those things, we can stop logging. Now, I just, in the beginning, I just trusted on faith that they truly knew what the solutions were.

“But 10 years later, we had incredible data that showed a 90% drop in logging households; a stabilization of the loss of primary forest, which had been shrinking like crazy. We had a re-growth, actually, of 52,000 acres of forest, and we had a 67% drop in infant mortality. …

“BASCOMB: A lot of NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] will go to a community and say, Oh, you need a school, or you need a road. But if you actually stop and ask people, they might say, we need water. We need sanitation. …

“WEBB: We ended up providing a kind of simultaneous to the government healthcare system, when the government was struggling to get a system that was quite functional. And since then [2007] they have done a much, much better job. And we coordinate with them all the time, and I think that together, we have really made a great difference in these communities. And one of the heads of the Department of Health at one point said to me, he said, ‘You know, I didn’t even know it was possible to provide high quality health care in a remote area. It wasn’t even trying until I saw your clinic.’ ”

More at the Living on Earth radio show, here.

Photo: Chelsea Call
An orangutan in Indonesian Borneo. “Kinari Webb was studying orangutans in Borneo in the early 1990s when she found out that much of the logging there was done so locals could cover healthcare costs,” says
Living on Earth.

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Photo: MedLinx
Some doctors find that museum visits are good for patients’ health. And now museums have started to add art therapists to their staff.

I can relate to the former colleague who often dashed out of work to look at art when he was stressed. Even if I don’t especially like the art, I always find going to museums and galleries soothing. And in recent years, I’ve started to see an increasing number of articles about the potential of art to improve health and healthcare. Last year, for example, I posted about museum visits being incorporated into medical training. (Click here.)

Now at the Hypoallergic podcast, Hrag Vartanian reports on museums hiring art therapists — and doctors actually prescribing visits.

“In Canada, an incredible new program allows doctors to prescribe museum visits to their patients. Hyperallergic’s Zachary Small visited the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts to talk with Stephen Legari, the first full-time art therapist on staff at a North American museum (he sees 1,200 patients a year), about his work in the city’s encyclopedic museum and what role art can plan in healing. …

“Zachary Small: After I saw the [Thierry Mugler] exhibition, I had the chance to meet with the museum’s art therapist on staff, Stephen Legari. … Canada is spearheading this movement. They are setting up systems where you can have a doctor prescribe you to the museum. …

“Hrag Vartanian: Weren’t they also doing that in the United Kingdom?

“ZS: Exactly. The UK actually started this movement and really innovated art as a therapy tool. That started in the mid-1990s with psychologists who found that art had some really positive effects on the brain. … A lot of other creative disciplines are doing this. Theater therapy is popular, especially with military veterans. I think the greater question we can ask is: Can art be used as a tool for therapy? When I sat down with Stephen a few weeks ago to discuss his work, I was thinking about that, and how art therapy actually functions in the room. …

Stephen Legari: The museum prescription was inspired by a movement in what’s called social prescribing. This has kind of taken off more in the UK. And in looking at the literature, we see that doctors were prescribing, in addition to things like eat better and get out there and walk more often, they were prescribing social activities within the patient’s community, with the belief that that was going to accelerate their healing and give them opportunity for more agency, that I am a participant in my healing. I’m not just waiting for something to be fixed for me. …

Art therapy is a therapeutic practice where we can explore your feelings, your memories, your desires, your thoughts about yourself and your life through making art — and then also through reflecting on it. In art therapy, we are focused on the process of making art, of being in the art-making and seeing what that feels like, and less on the product as something that we necessarily want to put a magnet on the fridge with, though many people do find that they feel good about the art that they make, and they want to keep it. …

“ZS: I’ve seen art therapy described as curative therapy. What does that mean?

“SL: That’s a charged word. I describe art therapy as a healing journey through the use of art and a therapeutic relationship. That’s maybe the shortest and best definition I’ve ever come up with. Art therapists believe in the containing power of art. So a participant like this can share something really traumatic, and the art helps to contain it. It’s not flowing out into the room and overwhelming everyone. … I don’t present art therapy as a replacement for any other kind of healthcare practice. It’s an ally. …

“HV: In the mid-1990s, Globe and Mail art critic John Bentley Mays wrote a fascinating article about how living with work by Toronto artist David Urban actually helped him with his depression. So I keep thinking about this. It’s unique that art serves all these different purposes in our lives.

“ZS: And it goes beyond illness. Stephen also works with immigrants who have just arrived in Canada, victims of violence — there’s a whole spectrum of people. That’s what makes his job really interesting and challenging; he has to figure out what artworks are going to help patients and edge them toward a deeper understanding of themselves.”

More here.

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