On a recent morning, Elias Elias and his staff at Pita’z Mediterranean and American Cuisine in Hiawatha were packing up dozens of boxed lunches to go — pita and gyro meat and hummus and salad. They weren’t filling orders to bring in money for the business; they were donating the meals to staff at the Hiawatha Care Center.
This was the latest in a string of donations Elias had made, sending hundreds of meals to the front-line staff at Mercy Medical Center and St. Luke’s Hospitals in Cedar Rapids.
Sending a little bit of food is the best way he knows how to help, Elias said, to give back to the community that has supported his business.
“Without them, we can’t keep going. They’re taking a big risk to be there for us. I can’t do that. They’re like heroes right now,” he said.
He’s not alone. Both of Cedar Rapids’ hospitals have been inundated with donations of meals to their staff, some from individuals who order from local restaurants, some directly from the restaurant owners themselves, some from larger corporations.
“It makes a huge impact. A lot of times, they’re not necessarily expecting a meal, and when you hand them a meal, it’s just a big sigh of relief. It brings a smile to their faces,” said Isaiah Corbin, director of volunteer services at Mercy. “They’ve called us Santa Claus, at times, when we’re handing them out. Food is something that fuels us and gives us great joy.”
Corbin said donations come in all shapes and sizes, from trays of cinnamon rolls from Oscar’s Restaurant to hundreds of take and bake meals for staff to take home that TrueNorth dropped off recently.
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“One of the best ways to the hearts of our caregivers is through their stomachs,” he said. “We’ve had over 50 individuals and businesses donate meals, some as large as 200, some as small as 20 meals … It’s really been overwhelming support from our community.”
Mary Klinger, president of the St. Luke’s Foundation, said meal donations have been pouring in there, as well.
“It’s really every weekend, every day. It’s around the clock,” she said. “I can’t tell you just how amazing that outpouring of love and support for our community is.”
She said for staff working in stressful situations, a hot meal is a little bit of comfort.
“It has been amazing for the team members on the front lines when they don’t have a lot of time to get something to eat, especially if they’re not able to get home. A lot of them work long hours,” she said. “I think it just warms their heart. We get emails every single day thanking us at the Foundation and those who are donating the meals.”
At University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, direct meal donations for staff aren’t being accepted due to logistical concerns
“Meal donations are challenging for us, as far as food safety and for the volume of our staff. We serve about 5,000 people in our cafeterias each day right now,” said Doug Robertson, the director of food and nutrition at the hospital.
Instead, the hospital launched a pilot program purchasing food from local restaurants to sell at a 25% discount to staff in the hospital’s cafeterias. The discounts are offset by donations to an employee relief fund.
“It’s kind of a win-win where the hospital can help out restaurants in the community and staff as well,” he said.
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They partnered with 21 local restaurants, purchasing the food at menu price from them, 200 portions at a time, to be sold in the cafeterias.
“It’s just really to improve staff morale. When we started this a couple weeks ago, there was a lot of anxiety,” Robertson said. “If we can bring in ribs from Jimmy Jacks or mac and cheese from Big Grove … food makes people happy.”
People interested in donating to Mercy staff may contact Corbin at (319) 775-2030 or via email at email@example.com, or visit mercycare.org/healthy-living/protect-yourself-from-illness/supporting-mercy-caregivers-during-covid-19. People interested in donating to St. Luke’s staff may call (319) 369-7716 or visit unitypoint.org/cedarrapids/st-lukes-foundation.aspx. Both hospitals are also seeking donations for their employee support funds, as is UIHC; people can donate to that fund at donate.givetoiowa.org.
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