Program returns to feed first responders

Feed the Frontline supports critical workers during the pandemic

As the battle against the coronavirus heads into its sixth month, doctors, nurses, police and other first responders are still pulling double duty — and their spirits are still being lifted with free food from caring and grateful community members.

By mid-September, Feed the Frontline — believed to be the largest initiative of its kind in the state — will have distributed more than 114,000 free meals to health care workers and others across metro Atlanta who are immersed in the region’s COVID-19 response.

Stephanie Hurst, Grady Health System’s executive director of community and external affairs, said it’s hard to explain “how sustaining and comforting these meals truly are to the teams in the trenches.”

“The gift of having a hearty and comforting lunch handed to them has been one of the greatest acts of compassion I have experienced in my career,” Hurst said.

Early in the pandemic, Jim Kennedy, chairman of Cox Enterprises, and others launched feeding programs for COVID-19 caregivers: doctors, nurses, custodians and emergency medical technicians at up to 19 hospitals across the region, as well as police officers and firefighters.

Kennedy said Feed the Frontline is a small way to support critical workers who were leaving the safety of their homes and putting themselves in harm’s way to save lives.

“Our front-line workers are true heroes who are saving lives and making personal sacrifices for all of us,” Kennedy said. “This crisis started six months ago, and a vaccine is probably still months away. These caregivers are on the job every day, and they need to know that we appreciate the vital work they are doing.”

An important secondary goal of the program has been preserving jobs in the local food industry, which has been hard hit by shelter-in-place edicts and fears about the potential spread of the virus, especially in crowded settings, such as restaurants.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

Backed by 10 private foundations, Emory University Advancement and Alumni Engagement and an army of more than 1,470 individual donors, Feed the Frontline launched April 3 with the goal of providing free meals, valued at $15 each, to health care workers, police officers and firefighters through May 1.

As the magnitude and likely duration of the pandemic became more apparent, the program was extended to May 31, with additional donations from the James M. Cox and Douglas J. Hertz foundations.

The James M. Cox Foundation is named in honor of the founder of Cox Enterprises, the parent company of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The program was brought back Aug. 5 after an uptick in Georgia’s COVID-19 cases, which state records now show number more than 263,000 and have resulted in more than 5,300 deaths.

Feed the Frontline is set to end Sept. 18, having delivered 75,900 free meals in Phase 1 and 37,800 meals in the current phase from local restaurants and catering companies, including Avalon Catering, Bazati Atlanta, Bold Catering and Design/Fifth Group, Chez Montier Catering, DAS BBQ, Hopkins and Company, Local Three and Legendary Events Inc.

Participating food partners estimate that they have been able to keep 85 local food service employees on the job as a result of their work with Feed the Frontline.

The program also has been praised for providing a morale booster to the region’s health care workers, many of whom are spending long hours and stressful weeks in emergency rooms, ICUs and critical care wards with COVID-19 patients.

“Overall, it has been a very positive experience for us and the hospitals,” said Cathy Conway, founder of Atlanta’s Avalon Catering and a food industry partner.

Conway said her company lost about $1.5 million in business this year due to the pandemic and was grateful for the work with Feed the Frontline, which paid its food partners $15 for each meal.

“Feeding the Frontline has been the lifeline for our company, absolutely 100%,” she said.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

On Thursday, Conway’s company delivered 600 meals to the Atlanta Police Department: a mixed kale salad with coriander-crusted chicken breast with a lime ranch dressing, local corn, black beans and toasted pumpkin seeds.

They were a welcome sight, said Sgt. Gregory Nelms. He said the lunches show his officers “somebody’s looking out for us — somebody still cares about what we do, and they appreciate us.”

Hospital workers have said the free meals have made their days just a little easier, in part because buying a meal requires removing their personal protective equipment and riding in an unventilated elevator to their cafeteria.

“I don’t think any of us could have predicted just how sustaining, critical and welcome these meals would actually be,” Grady’s Hurst said.

Ten foundations have supported this endeavor: James M. Cox Foundation, Tull Charitable Foundation, The Wilburn and Hilda Glenn Family Foundation, Douglas J. Hertz Family Foundation, The Martha and Wilton Looney Foundation, R. Harold and Patsy Harrison Foundation, R. Howard Dobbs Jr. Foundation, Sartain Lanier Family Foundation, Truist Foundation and one that wished to remain anonymous.