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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: Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff
El Jefe’s Taqueria is among the restaurants Cambridge is paying to serve hot and cold meals to homeless shelters.

One of the many interesting aspects of the Situation has been the way leaders in states and municipalities have taken matters into their own hands.

We know that individuals and both for-profit and nonprofit organizations are stepping up, but some government entities are, too. Across-the-board federal efforts would be better, especially if we don’t want to see New York suing Rhode Island and other such anomalies, but we’ll take what we can get.

Here’s a story about Cambridge, Mass., a city that some have called Moscow on the Charles mainly because it tries to help the poor.

Erin Kuschner, writes at the Globe‘s Boston.com, “With restaurants facing a sudden loss of revenue due to Gov. Baker’s mandated dine-in ban, and homeless shelters seeing a drop in volunteers helping to deliver and prepare food, the City of Cambridge came up with a solution to benefit both parties: Paying restaurants to make and deliver food to homeless shelters.

“The program launched Monday after the city reached out to both the Harvard Square Business Association and the Central Square Business Improvement District to help organize the initiative, with a goal of distributing roughly 1,800 to 2,000 meals to various shelters by the end of the week. …

“Denise Jillson, executive director of the Harvard Square Business Association, said that it has already brought roughly 15 restaurants on board to make meals for local shelters like the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter and Y2Y, a youth homeless shelter that has seen many of its student volunteers leave following Harvard’s closure.

“ ‘It just made so much sense,’ Jillson said. ‘We were on board immediately.’ …

“Among the restaurants serving Harvard Square’s homeless shelters are Black Sheep Bagel, Cardullo’s, El Jefe’s Taqueria, Orinoco, Subway, and Veggie Grill. Jillson said that they have tried to provide a range of healthy meal options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

“The Central Square Business Improvement District partnered with PAGU to deliver meals to Bay Cove Human Services and the Cambridge YMCA.

‘We made our first delivery [Monday],’ said Michael Monestime, executive director at the Central Square Business Improvement District. ‘It was pretty humbling and sad at the same time. It’s hard enough being homeless on any given day, and then under these circumstances it’s even more difficult.’ …

“In addition to providing hot and cold meals to those experiencing homelessness, the city has set up a Cambridge Community Food Line, available to any resident who is a high risk for food insecurity.

“The delivery service provides a weekly bag of produce and shelf-stable food items to individuals and families who have experienced the following: The food pantry or meal program you used has closed until further notice; you have lost your job or part of your income and cannot afford groceries at this time; you are homebound due to illness, disability, or quarantine and do not have friends or family that can bring you food; you are at high risk for COVID-19 (coronavirus) and do not have access to a regular food source.”

More at the Boston Globe, here. Local readers, try to remember these restaurants and thank them with your business when we come out of the tunnel to the other side of this plague.

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