Calling the main point of contact for the Meal Bridge, a new nonprofit platform for donating restaurant meals to hospital workers, I was completely caught off guard by the youthful voice on the other end of the line.
But news in the age of coronavirus moves quickly, so I dove right into the interview.
» COMPLETE COVERAGE: Coronavirus in Georgia
I asked Grey Cohen, 16, the driving force behind this tidily-created charitable effort, to tell me a little bit about her background.
“I’m a sophomore at Druid Hills High School. I’m on the lacrosse team, I have a sister named Sidney and we have a dog named Olive,” she said. Not your typical resume for someone who could creditably be referred to as the founder and director of a nonprofit organization.
Created just days ago, the Meal Bridge garners immediate credibility thanks to an attractively designed website, tightly-written copy and, most importantly, a beautifully simple premise.
» DINING TEAM: How coronavirus will change dining coverage
The Meal Bridge serves as a platform that allows people to purchase meals for local hospital workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic, while simultaneously supporting local restaurants. The organization came together over the course of the weekend under the direction of Grey, whose family happens to be perfectly positioned for such an endeavor. In just three days of active service, the Meal Bridge has provided enough meals to serve about 60 individual hospital workers at Emory University Hospital.
It all started Friday, March 20, when Grey’s uncle Shawn Janko asked her mother, a speech pathologist at Emory, whether he could send pizzas to a shift at the hospital. “Grey said, ‘Why can’t we make this a bigger thing?’’ said her father, Mark Cohen. The family got to work over the weekend to activate the idea. Collectively, the Cohens happened to have the skills and contacts needed to create the Meal Bridge out of thin air.
Mark runs his own agency, Wit Advertising & Design, and quickly designed a logo and website. He works with several local restaurants, and was able to immediately tap some of his clients as partners.
Grey's mother, Dena Cohen, works at Emory Hospital and was able to make the internal connections to set up a partnership with the Meal Bridge. She identified the units and shifts most in need of donated meals and put Grey in touch with the hospital's chef. Grey's 14-year-old sister, Sidney, is in charge of social media for the Meal Bridge. Olive, the dog, provides emotional support.
While her father worked on the public face of the Meal Bridge and her mother coordinated logistics with the hospital, Grey created the system for connecting would-be donors with restaurants and hospital workers.
Like most great ideas, the concept is simple but the execution is complicated.
For an individual donor who wants to provide meals to hospital workers, there are contacts to make and red tape to navigate. The Meal Bridge simplifies the process and ensures that money gets to the restaurants and the food gets to the right people at the hospital.
Donors log onto the Meal Bridge’s website and click the “Start Here” button, which sends them to the organization’s Sign Up Genius page. There, they can sign up for a time slot and a number of people to feed. Then, they’re instructed to place an order from a list of approved restaurants, including all the necessary delivery details.
Grey said that the system she created has required some fine-tuning. “We had one delivery for a unit that, when the front desk called up that they had food delivered, they said they didn't order anything,” she said. There’s also a bit of hospital bureaucracy to navigate. Emory Hospital’s head chef must approve each restaurant, ensuring they follow CDC safety procedures. But the impediments have been few, especially considering that the Meal Bridge’s first arranged delivery happened on Monday night, providing meals for Emory’s 20-person ICU staff.
The organization has quickly gained traction on social media, especially NextDoor. “People have been contacting me a lot about it,” said Grey. “Restaurants have been reaching out, their owners have been contacting me, so that’s crazy.”
Although she created the Meal Bridge, Grey is quick to deflect credit. “It was originally my uncle’s idea [to get food to hospital workers], so I just want to make sure he gets a shout-out,” she said.
Grey's father, Mark, said that they are already in communication with Northside, Piedmont and St. Joe's hospitals. They're also seeking more restaurant partners and, of course, encourage anyone who is able to donate. He's also clear that the Meal Bridge is Grey's baby.
“I’m still working, and my wife is obviously working at the hospital, so she’s the only one who really has time to handle this,” he said. Grey has been taking her high school classes online, but said that the Meal Bridge is “like a side job.”
The Meal Bridge is still in its early days, but Grey plans to continue her stewardship of the budding nonprofit as it grows. She said that the dinner window tonight is the first timeslot in which all four hospital units have meals provided, ensuring that all of the hospital workers targeted by the organization will get free dinner — about 50 people.
Of course, the catering orders for five to 20 people are a boon to the organization’s partner restaurants as well. Grey’s father, Mark, is overjoyed to see what his daughter has accomplished in such a short time and at such a young age. “I’m just really proud she saw the opportunity,” he said.
If you are interested in donating to the Meal Bridge, visit www.themealbridge.com.
Read more stories like this by liking Atlanta Restaurant Scene on Facebook, following @ATLDiningNews on Twitter and @ajcdining on Instagram.