A local grassroots campaign has raised more than $30,000 this spring to buy meals to feed hospital employees who are the front line of the fight against COVID-19.
Fuel the Fight Winston-Salem is like dozens of similar campaigns being waged across the country to support both health-care workers and struggling restaurants during the coronavirus crisis.
In Winston-Salem, Sydney Poretsky and mother and daughter Evan and Kate Cavenaugh have been soliciting donations through GoFundMe since the first week of April and coordinating with Novant Health, Wake Forest Baptist Health and dozens of restaurants to deliver breakfast, lunch and dinner to hospital workers.
The team is making one to three deliveries each day of anywhere from 35 to 110 meals at a time.
“We’ve only taken one day off, last Saturday,” Evan Cavenaugh said. “And that was to evaluate where we were and how much money we had left.”
Kate Cavenaugh is a 27-year-old technology consultant who left her home in Denver, Colo., to shelter at her parents’ home in Winston-Salem, along with her 24-year-old brother Jay.
Poretsky is 24-year-old communications graduate student at Wake Forest University from Potomac, Md.
Around the same time, Cavenaugh and Poretsky heard about Fuel the Fight, a nationwide movement that started in Philadelphia.
“That week after the sheltering-in-place order came out, we were sitting around the kitchen table, thinking and talking about how can we do something — what can we do?” Evan Cavenaugh said.
“We ended up with three goals: first, to give individuals who were sheltering in place an easy way to help the community; second, to honor the front-line medical personnel; and, third, to infuse a chunk of money into the community through supporting restaurants.”
Kate Cavenaugh learned about Fuel the Fight from two brothers she knows. Woody Klemmer, a classmate of hers from Vanderbilt University, is involved with Fuel the Fight in Philadelphia, and Teddy Klemmer is working with Fuel the Fight in Denver.
Meanwhile, Poretsky found out about Fuel the Fight efforts in the Maryland-D.C. area.
“I knew I wanted to get involved and do something,” Poretsky said. “I think I had my GoFundMe page up one day before I heard about the Cavenaughs and we started working together.”
The Fuel the Fight team coordinates with officials at Novant Health and Wake Forest Baptist to determine what employees can use a meal when and where, then they choose a restaurant and place an order. “We have focused on the people who are dealing with the COVID-19 crisis, and as this has progressed, the hospital has directed us to other units,” Kate Cavenaugh said.
In dealing with the hospitals, the team has had to meet certain safety protocols. When they arrive at a restaurant to pick up food, the restaurant staff places the food in the vehicle. When the team arrives at the drop-off location, hospital staff unloads the food, thus keeping contact at a minimum.
The team has purposefully chosen a wide variety of restaurants all over Winston-Salem, Kate Cavenaugh said, “to spread the love.” Sometimes donors or followers of the team’s Instagram account have suggested restaurants. Other suggestions have come from friends or community leaders. And some restaurants have heard about Fuel the Fight and contacted the team directly. To date, the team has bought meals from about three dozen Winston-Salem restaurants.
Just a few of the contributing restaurants include Simply Soul Food Café, Putter’s Grill, Milner’s, Zesto Burgers, Slappy’s Chicken, O’Brien’s Deli, Sampan, Cagney’s Kitchen, Forsyth Seafood and Real Q.
“One of the best parts about this for me has been working with the restaurants. Some of them would open early for us. Some would stay open late,” Kate Cavenaugh said.
“What we found is that a lot of restaurants were doing donations like this before we called them — despite their financial circumstances, Poretsky said.
Novant and Wake Forest said that many organizations have been eager to help. Novant said it has gotten similar help from such groups Allegacy and Truliant credit unions, church groups, Potter’s House Family Resource Center and direct donations from such restaurants as Chick-fil-A and Dewey’s Bakery. Wake Forest said it has also received donations from Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Hardee’s, Sheetz and many others.
“This has been perfect timing, and it is much needed,” said Cindy Caines, director of constituency engagement for Wake Forest Baptist Health. Caines said that Fuel the Fight meals have gone to the hospital’s ER, ICU and the department of environmental services, which is responsible for cleaning and disinfecting hospital areas.
Laura Holby, Novant’s director of community engagement for Winston-Salem, said that the Fuel the Fight team has been particularly good to work with.
“They’ve been so well organized and quick to respond,” Holby said. “They’ve fed a good chunk of Forsyth Medical Center, and they’ve fed all of Forsyth Medical Park. This has been a big help to team members. They have a lot going on, so this is one less thing for them to worry about.”
Poretsky and the Cavenaughs said that now that they have met their initial goal of $30,000, they are not sure how long they will continue.
“One gift of this whole thing has been learning that there are lot of good organizations in Winston-Salem that are helping out,” Evan Cavenaugh said. “We say around the house that this was pop-up philanthropy. We never really meant it to be long-term.”
Right now, they expect their money to run out by the end of next week.
But, they added, their GoFundMe page is still accepting donations.
And as long as they have money to spend, they’ll keep feeding hospital employees.
“Two things have stuck out to me the most through this,” Poretsky said. “First is that so many restaurants were interested in working with us; and, second, how amazing the Winston-Salem community has been overall. Seeing the community come together in this dark time has really been great.”