After stumbling upon a box of N95 respirators in her New York City apartment and delivering them to Mount Sinai West’s Emergency Department, Anna Azvolinsky and her husband Joel Weingarten wondered what else they could do to help during a crisis.
So, Azvolinksy asked hospital workers.
“Unanimously they said, ‘We need food to eat because we don’t have time to leave the hospital, [and] all the restaurants around us are shut down,’” Weingarten said in an interview with The Sun. He added that the closing of hospital cafeterias further exacerbated the problem, leaving healthcare workers without any options for meals during their long workdays.
Weingarten then spoke with his wife, and decided to revamp his pre-existing registered non-profit Doing4Others — originally launched in 2017 to increase volunteerism among high school students — into Meals 4 Heroes with his business partner Ryall Carroll.
“About 24 hours after [my] conversation with Anna, Meals 4 Heroes was launched,” Weingarten said. “Twenty-four hours later we had our first meal out to Mount Sinai West, and four weeks later we’ve now [delivered] 13,000 meals to 13 hospitals.”
Meals 4 Heroes aims to provide healthcare workers with healthy, nutritious meals when they are currently faced with working long hours that are physically and mentally strenuous — to a point that they are unable to fulfill their own basic needs.
A completely volunteer-run organization, all proceeds from Meals 4 Heroes’ website go directly to funding its operations, including the meals it provides through partnerships with local restaurants.
So far, they have supplied meals to hospitals all across New York City, including New York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medicine and Bellevue Hospital and Elmhurst Hospital Center — hospitals that have been especially overwhelmed by the pandemic. The organization also launched in Seattle and Long Island, other coronavirus hotspots, Weingarten said.
“For [healthcare workers], I think [a meal] brightens their spirit, and..they are the real heroes, they’re the ones saving the lives of COVID-19 patients,” Weingarten said. “If we can do anything [to help], we’re happy to do that.”
The non-profit doesn’t just support front-line healthcare workers with meals — the organization’s mission also centers around making “twice the impact” by providing business to local restaurants that are suffering from pandemic-related financial burdens.
“A number of [the restaurants] were closed, and opened just to work with us,” Weingarten said. “We’ve been able to provide them some revenue so they can pay their staff, so they can keep their lights on and their restaurants going, which is really one of [our] primary missions.”
Although the organization is determined to help as many healthcare workers as possible in the short-term, the nonprofit eventually wants hospitals to not depend on its services as much in the long-term.
“We hope that in the upcoming weeks the demand on hospitals will decrease as the curve begins to bend, and there won’t be a need [for Meals 4 Heroes] as restaurants begin to open up,” Weingarten said. “But until then, we’re going to be here for restaurants and…medical workers.”
Weingarten emphasized that the efforts of Meals 4 Heroes have not only helped front-line workers, but have left Weingarten and his fellow volunteers with a positive outlook and support system during a difficult time.
“This experience has been really good for our self-care and for our mental health — to be part of a community that is focused and passionate about helping medical workers has meant that our focus hasn’t been on a lot of the negative news…of COVID-19,” Weingarten said. “We’re happy to help other people, but it’s also equally helped us personally.”