Employees at Forza Storico prep meals for Atlanta Healthcare Heroes program. Credit: Michael Patrick
Photo: Michael Patrick
Photo: Michael Patrick

Hawks fund program to feed Emory health care workers treating COVID-19 patients

The Hawks wanted to find a way to support health care workers during the coronavirus crisis, and one email from CEO Steve Koonin to Dr. Jonathan Lewin, president and CEO of Emory Healthcare, got the ball rolling. 

In the span of a week, the Hawks figured out a supply chain that could bring 4,000 meals a week, for four weeks, to approximately 1,000 health care workers who are taking care of COVID-19 patients at six Emory hospital facilities in metro Atlanta. Partnering with State Farm, they will sponsor two area restaurants, Miller Union and Forza Storico, to prepare the meals using product from local farmers. The first meals are being delivered today. 

“In this extremely stressful time for so many in the health field, we hope that by delivering a quality, nutritious meal we can provide a bit of relief, give them one less thing to worry about and remind them that we care about them and appreciate all that they are doing for Atlanta,” Koonin said. “The fact that we can help great Atlanta restaurants re-hire staff and keep their local suppliers in business is a powerful benefit that also helps the community.”

The health care workers will receive the meals (that serve two) five times a week. With doctors, nurses and others in the health care field who are helping coronavirus patients stretched thin, the hope is that having readily available, free meals will ease their burden. Especially if they’re not able to make it out to a grocery store, or find what they need there. 

Emory acts as the team’s health care provider, so that relationship was already in place. 

“We are incredibly grateful to the Hawks, State Farm, Miller Union and Forza Storico for this program,” said Lewin. “The ability to recognize the heroes on the front lines of this battle against the COVID-19 pandemic within Emory Healthcare while also providing jobs for restaurant workers and the restaurant supply chain was really brilliant for making a difference. 

“There are thousands of brave men and women within health care taking care of these COVID-19 patients across the city,” said Lewin. “For them, every day is a challenge. A small gesture like this can have a big impact: Show them we appreciate them, the courage they are showing every day and that together we are improving lives and providing hope.”

The news couldn’t have come at a more dire time for people like Steven Satterfield of Miller Union in West Midtown and Michael Patrick, owner of Forza Storico in Westside Provisions District and Storico Fresco in Buckhead. Like other food service operators around the country, the restaurateurs had been forced to cut staff as their dining rooms became closed to the public and they attempted to stay afloat with takeout and delivery service. 

“We were at the brink of laying off 90% of our staff,” said Satterfield. “Not only are we feeding workers who need comfort and appreciation, but we were able to retain the majority of our staff.”  

The funding will enable him to pay 29 of his 40 employees to cook, portion and package 2,000 wholesome restaurant-quality meals each week. Patrick’s Forza Storico team will do the same at that space. Each meal from Miller Union will include an appetizer, an entrée with two sides and a dessert. Forza Storico will cook up Italian dishes along with salads, antipasti and dessert. 

Hawks owners Tony Ressler and Jami Gertz, coach Lloyd Pierce and several players express their thanks to local healthcare heroes for their efforts in the fight against COVID-19.

The restaurants will source the food from local farmers, planning menus around available product. “It’s a win-win-win for everybody,” said Satterfield. “We are able to help these farmers out. It’s not just produce. It’s beef, pork, chicken, dairy, eggs. We are able to save a lot of food and put it in a positive stream.” 

Thus far, 14 vendors have been chosen as purveyors for the farmers selected for the Atlanta Healthcare Heroes program. They include Hickory Hill, Woodland Gardens, Rodgers Greens and Roots, Moore Farms and Friends, Row by Rowe, Aluma, Love is Love Farm, West Georgia Farmers Co-op, Rise 'N Shine Organic Farm, Joyce Farms, Riverview Farm, White Oak Pastures, Dayspring Farms and Decimal Place Farms. 

Koonin hopes this program can expand, with more restaurants and hospitals involved, therefore feeding more healthcare workers and keeping more farmers, restaurant workers and others, such as delivery-truck drivers, employed. Taking care of health care workers was the No. 1 priority, but extending an opportunity to local businesses was also a focus, as the restaurant industry struggles. 

“All these places that were going to be shut down that now have a vibrant short-term peace of business through this alliance, allows people to stay working,” Koonin said. “That’s why the hope is to continue to expand this, adding more restaurants, adding more hospitals.” 

The Hawks are also sponsoring pop-up grocery stores to help battle food insecurity, and continuing to pay workers during the NBA hiatus. 

The cost of this initiative comes out to about $100,000 a week, according to a person familiar with the situation.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.
AJC.com. Atlanta. News. Now.

Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.
AJC.com. Atlanta. News. Now.

X