Comfort food: 'Hospital Heroes Meals' provides sustenance for UHS staff
A number of generous people across the Southern Tier have really stepped up to help feed workers at the region's healthcare organizations during the COVID-19 pandemic. UHS salutes the individuals, organizations and establishments for their kindness in a time of special need.
Hospital staff plan ahead for potential events, such as floods, blizzards, mass-casualty incidents--even pandemics. And they practice--via tabletop exercises and live drills--how to respond. But when an actual event occurs and it’s all hands on deck, having extra support from the wider community makes a world of difference.
According to Michelle Karedes, senior director of Strategic Facility Planning at UHS, a phone call that came into the UHS Hospitals Emergency Command Center during the first week of "New York on Pause" was the extra help that made the difference. The caller was Vanessa Moschak, assistant supervisor of Instructional Programs at Broome-Tioga BOCES, offering to provide hospital staff with meals.
Said Ms. Moschak: “I pitched the idea in a BOCES staff Facebook group the day New York on Pause was announced in March. We wanted to find a way to show support for hospital staff who were working exceptionally long hours away from their loved ones. We thought food could provide both nourishment and comfort.”
Once Ms. Moschak knew she had interest and willing volunteers behind her, she reached out to Erik Jones, a fellow Discovery Center board member and UHS’ administrative director of Surgical Services. “I asked if meal deliveries would be helpful to UHS, and he quickly started fostering communication to help things take shape.”
The group, called "Hospital Heroes Meals," made its first delivery to UHS Wilson Medical Center and UHS Binghamton General Hospital on March 25, and by the end of Week 1 had dropped off 240 meals. “We wanted to add more sites and more delivery runs, so we posted to our Facebook group looking for volunteer drivers and people to seek support from restaurants,” said Ms. Moschak. A segment on WNBF News Radio with Bob Joseph announced the group publicly; additional news coverage followed. Private donations came in, along with offers of help from restaurants and food suppliers. The UHS Vestal medical office building and several off-campus support departments also received meals.
At the height of the program, six meal runs a day were made by 42 volunteer drivers (all but one were current or former Broome-Tioga BOCES employees), serving UHS’ two Broome County hospitals and Ascension Lourdes Hospital, added during Week 3. Drivers represented the full range of BOCES roles: paraprofessionals, clerical support staff, educators, administrators, principals and the assistant superintendent. BOCES has representation from each of its seven program sites. During Hospital Week, the group had help from BOCES Operations and Maintenance crew members, who delivered 62 boxes of Frito-Lay chips.
Ms. Moschak and Ms. Karedes coordinate each week’s deliveries, and UHS Security Services administrative lead AJ Vannostrand and his team meets the volunteer drivers and oversees food distribution throughout the hospitals. “The meal volume varies each day based on the donating establishments, and we determine how to distribute it among our staff,” said Ms. Karedes.
Hospital Heroes Meals has been funded by the 62 restaurants, bakeries and grocery stores that have generously supplied meals, monetary donations from the public and contributions to the UHS Foundation, along with special funds, such "Hugs for Rah Rah Rah," founded by the family of Ruth A. Harrington, who passed away in March from COVID-19. Since Week 4, meals have also been sponsored by businesses, individuals and organizations, including Binghamton alumni, Cops 4 a Cause, The Goldsmith, M.B. Yonaty Development, Sbarra & Wells and others.
As of last week, the program had supplied more than 10,000 meals to hospital staff, with deliveries expected to continue through Saturday, June 13. Said Ms. Moschak: “Hospital Heroes Meals is so much bigger than our 45 volunteers--we’ve been successful thanks to participating restaurants and financial donors. We're so grateful for the love and the support from our community that have allowed us to feed thousands of hard-working hospital employees. We have been nothing short of amazed at the kindness and graciousness of the UHS staff involved. For Hospital Heroes Meals volunteer drivers, it’s a positive experience from beginning to end on each food run.” Added Ms. Karedes: "UHS staff members are extremely grateful for the nurturing provided to them during this crisis.”
To learn more about Hospital Heroes Meals, visit their Facebook page.