When morale is hit hard and the unknown looms over daily life, one thing remains constant: Our humanity binds us together and, time and again, we lift one another up. Whether it was following World War II or 9/11, or mourning and rebuilding together in local communities after earthquakes, hurricanes, or wildfires, the power of community always helps pick up the broken pieces to heal together.
This has been evident over the past month, with local restaurants, bakeries, and coffee shops becoming a pillar in the foundation of community support, having delivered at press time almost 2,000 meals to the Tahoe Forest Hospital System since April 2. Squeeze In, the popular breakfast and lunch spot in Truckee, was first to reach out to the Tahoe Forest Health Foundation.
“It started almost immediately,” the foundation’s Karli Epstein said of the community’s desire to show support for frontline healthcare workers.
The program has grown so rapidly that meal donations are now scheduled on a spreadsheet Monday through Saturday, with both the Truckee and Incline Village locations receiving the goodwill.
“We’ve been really trying to ensure that all of our employees are feeling the love right now, especially the frontline staff,” Epstein said, noting that meals have also been provided for their front registration employees, people working in med-search, the in-patient unit for COVID clinic, emergency room personnel, and at offices at the Pioneer Center.
Once restaurants caught wind of the opportunity to help, the list of those participating kept growing.
In Incline Village, the Rotary Club of Tahoe-Incline in early March organized a similar initiative for the Incline Village Community Hospital. The Angel at Your Door Community Assistance Program, also called the Angel Fund, allows people to donate food to Feed Our Heroes, the club’s effort to provide sustenance for healthcare workers. Community members can sign up to donate meals, desserts, or drinks to IVCH three days a week, providing for 20 people on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and 10 people on Saturdays. While homemade dessert and canned/bottled drinks will be accepted, all meals must come from a commercial kitchen. Visit angelatyourdoor.org for more information.
“It’s a really important blend for our entire community,” said Epstein. “For one, supporting local businesses, ensuring that our local restaurants stay afloat, and two, providing meals to our frontline staff who are really in a tough position right now.” The local hospitals have asked their employees to refrain from leaving campus on their lunch breaks, to decrease the risk of cross-contamination and the potential spread of coronavirus.
Wendy Lenz has been spearheading the logistics behind this new initiative over the past few weeks. “During a really hard and challenging time, it’s been really nice to work with such positive people who just want to support the health system in any way that they can,” she said. They’ve worked with more than 16 different local restaurants and eateries who have come forward and are interested in feeding the staff.
With Cornerstone Bakery, Sierra Bakehouse, Wild Cherries, and Wildflour Baking Company dropping off boxes of pastries over the weeks, the running joke has been: Goodbye freshman 15, hello COVID-19. “Well, let’s just say people are happy and they say their pants don’t fit,” laughed Epstein.
When you place an online order with Squeeze In, there’s now an option to donate food to frontline workers. They have been serving 106 meals a week for the last eight weeks. At Coffeebar, healthcare workers can show their badge and receive a free beverage and Danish.
Above and beyond just the food, Lenz mentioned that a local woman donated 120 Arbonne self-care gift packages and The Infused Group in Truckee has provided 30 healthcare workers with free Immune Booster IVs. Drink Coffee Do Stuff has received a grant from Salesforce to deliver 200 bags of coffee with a note thanking the staff for their hard work. West Shore Market donated 50 sandwiches to TFHS, as well as 650 cookies for a food drive at the Boys and Girls Club of North Lake Tahoe in Kings Beach. Bridgetender Tavern supplied an equal number of pasta and salad dinners to accompany the cookies. A couple of private benefactors covered the cost of the Boys and Girls Club endeavor.
“Between those two things, it’s just been word of mouth, we’re trying to be strong staples for the local economy,” said Bridgetender and West Shore Market marketing manager Michael Coats. “We’re helping people out, helping locals out, and trying to be a strong pillar for our community.”
Epstein and Lenz describe the smiling eyes behind masked faces upon seeing daily fresh, hot food deliveries. “It’s been a huge morale boost. Between 8 p.m. howls and all of the food, people just really feel like what they’re doing matters,” said Epstein. “You’re in a COVID clinic, you’re head to toe in PPE, you’ve got gloves and a mask on, and someone brings you cupcakes — that’s going to make you pretty happy.”
Tahoe environmental land use advocacy group Mountain Area Preservation created a COVID Community Support Fund. “Small businesses and nonprofits are truly the fabric of our community,” MAP executive director Alexis Ollar told Moonshine Ink. The foundation noticed Coffeebar’s early action to support medical professionals with food and coffee, and wanted to add support to their existing effort by creating the COVID Community Support Grant for the Coffeebar Medical Frontlines Program.
“As a small nonprofit, we depend on the business community to support us, whether it is a venue for an outreach event, a raffle donation, or as a MAP business member … so it is important to pay it forward where and when you can,” Ollar said.
The support fund will continue through donor directed grants and donations, which can help serve other small businesses and nonprofits. “We all depend on each other,” she continued. “Whether we live here full time or not, our community is vibrant due to our small, mountain character and all of the wonderful small businesses and nonprofits that help to create the Truckee/Tahoe landscape.”
As we keep seeing on social media and the news, healthcare workers are experiencing elevated stress and fear regarding the safety of themselves and their families. “During tough times, people come together,” said Epstein. “We’ve been feeling nothing but uplifted because we know that this entire community has our back.”
Some of the eateries feeding the frontlines:
Austin’s Restaurant Bertie’s Hot Chicken
Cornerstone Bakery Drink Coffee Do Stuff
Full Belly Deli
Mogrog Rotisserie Moody’s Bistro
Bar & Beats
Old Town Tap
Sierra Bakehouse Squeeze In
T’s Mesquite Rotisserie
The Crest Café and Catering
West Shore Market
Wild Cherries Coffee House
Wildflour Baking Company
Zano’s Family Restaurant