The idea came from Steve Perricone, who volunteers as a consultant for the Community Foundation of San Benito County. Foundation President/CEO Gary Byrne said, “Steve saw a need. He just wanted to give back. That’s what he does.”
Byrne called the Hollister Downtown Association and offered Events Manager Teri Escamilla $5,000 in donated money with which to execute the meal program. The foundation has established a fund to collect donations for the program. Byrne said his hope is that Meals for Heroes can continue until the pandemic ends.
“We’re really happy to have received this opportunity to help the hospital,” Escamilla said.
“With COVID and the anxiety that everyone’s feeling right now, we’re very happy that we’re able to be a coordinator for the hospital, to help our frontline staff and, in turn, give some business to our local restaurants that desperately need it.”
Escamilla called dozens of restaurants in Hollister and San Juan Bautista and put together a long list of those willing to participate in the Meals for Heroes program. Establishments include Paine’s Restaurant, Mangia’s Italian Kitchen, La Catrina, Heavenly Bakery, Fourth Street Eatery, Cozy Cup Café, La Sabrosa, Farmhouse Café, Seabrisa’s, Country Rose, Eva Mae’s, Doña Esther’s, Grillin & Chillin Alehouse and Round Table Pizza.
The downtown association agreed with the restaurants, on each order, to pay menu prices for about 25 meals, plus packaging and delivery fees. Before each order, Escamilla sends a menu to Frankie Gallagher, director of marketing and community relations at the hospital, who chooses the meals. Gallagher said she always chooses some vegetarian food, in addition to meat-centric lunch and dinner entrées.
“Their schedule is just very heavy, so [the meals] were things that could sit there for a minute if they had to take care of a patient and take a break,” reported Chuck Frowein, owner of Grillin & Chillin Alehouse, the first restaurant that sold food to the Meals for Heroes program. Frowein is also participating in the Great Plates Delivered program, which delivers meals to senior citizens.
Alehouse employees Frank Ruiz and Lloyd Casares dropped off the first round of meals at Hazel Hawkins on Jan. 19. The next meal deliveries are expected from La Catrina on Jan. 26 and Paine’s Restaurant on Jan. 28. Once food is dropped off at the hospital, Gallagher delivers meals to staff, as outside workers are not allowed inside.
Frontline workers who work in or pass through the intensive care unit, the medical-surgical Floor, and the emergency room will receive priority. Gallagher said she hopes the program would at times provide some meals for most of the hospital’s workers.
“It takes everybody in this hospital to take care of patients. Our frontline staff has done a phenomenal job dealing with the patient surge, but we have so many people behind the scenes: respiratory therapists, our lab people, the pharmacy, engineers, housekeepers,” she said. “We’re not concentrating on just those three units, we want to make sure it’s equitable throughout the hospital, that everyone has the opportunity to be recognized and receive a free meal.”
Frowein said, “I really appreciate the Community Foundation and the Downtown Association looking out for businesses. I was talking to Frank Ruiz this morning, asking him about it, and he said it just made him feel good, being able to give back to the community.”
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