An employee with Avalon Catering prepares salads for Feed the Frontline, the initiative established in April by the James M. Cox Foundation and Emory Healthcare to provide meals to Atlanta’s frontline workers in Atlanta-area hospitals. Avalon Catering is one of Feed the Frontline’s food service partners. Photos contributed.

Cox, Emory team up to feed front-line workers

Atlantans can’t comfort the sick during the pandemic, so they’re doing the next best thing: feeding the caregivers.

Across the city, thousands of front-line workers are being fueled for the fight against COVID-19 with free meals provided by organizations, such as Feed the Frontline, an initiative of the James M. Cox Foundation and Emory Healthcare. The James M. Cox Foundation is named in honor of the founder of Cox Enterprises, the parent company of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The objective is to bring food and comfort to those working long hours and stressful days in the trenches: healthcare workers in emergency rooms, ICUs, and critical care wards, as well as Atlanta police and fire first responders.

“With all we’re going through, it is so great to have one less thing to have to think about,” said Lisa Kjar, an emergency room nurse and unit educator at Emory University Hospital Midtown. “We are so grateful and humbled by the outpouring from the community.”

Feed the Frontline, which launched in early April, is now delivering about 10,000 meals a week to these workers. So far, Feed the Frontline has served 60,170 meals. 

Twice a week, fresh wraps and other healthy meals are arriving at 19 hospitals, including Emory Johns Creek Hospital.

“Not only is Atlanta feeding healthcare providers, but many restaurants are able to remain open and in business – a real win-win situation,” said Alex M. Almanza, vice president for human resources at Emory Johns Creek.

More than 1,470 donors — private individuals, foundations and corporations — have chipped in more than $1 million to support the effort.

The program was originally set up to run through May 1. Additional donations from the James M. Cox and Douglas J. Hertz Foundations are enabling the program to continue through May 31. But more donations are still needed.

At the Atlanta Police Department, where officers are now wearing masks, gloves and face shields and working out of regularly sanitized police cars and precincts, the meals being provided by Feed the Frontline and other organizations are “proving extraordinarily helpful,” said Dave Wilkinson, the Atlanta Police Foundation’s president and CEO.

“The meals have been a significant morale boost to officers during this period when restaurants are closed and normal operations take longer to execute with the necessary application of additional precautions to protect officers from the virus,” he said, adding that, with help from Feed the Frontline and other groups, APD is dishing out about 1,500 meals a day to its officers.

At some metro hospitals, cafeteria hours have been limited and menus have been scaled back. Without the meals being provided by Feed the Frontline, other groups and individuals, healthcare workers said they would have basically two options: carve out time in their already hectic days to buy groceries and prepare food to bring to work or leave the job to go out for a meal.

Since Feed the Frontline and others have stepped up to help, hospital staffers have time to leave the building for some much-needed outdoor exercise, fresh air, and sunshine, said Robyn Richardson, unit director of telemetry at Emory Hillandale Hospital.

Gaurav Budhrani, doctor of anesthesiology and critical care at the Atlanta VA Medical Center, said life for healthcare workers during these times is rewarding, but also “extremely challenging on both physical and emotional levels.”

“To leave the ICU momentarily and to be surprised with a delicious meal is a huge morale boost, and, for that, you have my gratitude,” he said.

Since April 3, thousands of meals have been delivered by Feed the Frontline to Atlanta-area hospitals, including Emory Healthcare, Grady Health System, Piedmont Health, the Atlanta VA Healthcare System, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Northside Hospital and Wellstar Health System.

Pitching in have been foodservice partners: Avalon Catering, Bazati Atlanta, Chef Linton and Gina Hopkins, Chez Montier Catering, DAS BBQ, Fifth Group/Bold Catering, Local Three, Southern Proper Hospitality and Tamarind Restaurant Group.

Philip Haun, director of emergency and clinical support services at Emory University Hospital, said the Feed the Frontline initiative has been “an incredibly inspiring program” for nurses, techs, and physicians in the hospital’s emergency department.

“Since the beginning of this initiative, our front line team has received a meal during their work shift almost every day,” he said. “It’s provided our team with the confidence to know that the community is behind them during the fight against COVID-19. Something as simple as a meal makes a world of difference during a busy shift.”

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