On the Frontlines: The Spanakopita Samaritan

Amid the coronavirus outbreak, restaurants in New York City are repurposing their kitchens to feed hospital workers on the frontlines

By Yoonji Han and Jenna Gyimesi

Since the state government ordered all non-essential businesses to close as of March 22, chef Maria Loi has put the kitchen at her eponymous Greek restaurant Loi Estiatorio to charitable use, preparing meals for healthcare workers battling COVID-19 at hospitals.

Before the coronavirus outbreak, Loi remembers that her restaurant in Midtown Manhattan was “full of life, full of people.” She remarked, “Now we are full of boxes.”

So far, Loi has provided 250 individually packed containers of dolmades—stuffed grape leaves, spinach and cheese pies, and lemon potatoes to the staff at NYU Langone Health and Lenox Hill Hospital. The chef, who has also been donating meals to the homeless during the health crisis, was the first to partner with a fundraising initiative set up by philanthropists Angela and Justin Clair to help feed medical workers.

“Help a Restaurant, Feed a Doctor,” as the fundraiser is called, is one way New Yorkers are trying to support their local community during the coronavirus pandemic. The Clairs, who live in Manhattan with their two young daughters, started the initiative on GoFundMe last month. Their mission is to simultaneously help local restaurants stay open and provide 1,000 meals to medical staff on the frontlines. As of the date of publication, they have raised more than $12,000.

“I am a New Yorker born and raised, and it’s just tough to see something like this happen in our city,” said Angela Clair. “So we’re just trying to do something  to help something positive.”

Clair—whom Loi has dubbed “Angela the Angel”—said that all of the money raised goes to the restaurants, which helps to cover some of the food costs. In addition to Loi Estiatorio, the Clairs have partnered with Angelo’s Pizza and MakiMaki Sushi to send another nearly 200 meals to two other local hospitals. The initiative has also since expanded to Florida with the help of one of their friends.

Angela Clair, center, chef Maria Loi, rear, and one well-equipped young volunteer with meals prepared for hospital staff / Photo courtesy of Justin and Angela Clair

 

Cooks in the kitchen and volunteers who deliver the meals alike are taking the necessary safety precautions. Loi said that there are no more than four people in the kitchen at a time, while Clair noted that they quickly drop the food off with the healthcare workers on the curb, outside the hospital. Everyone wears masks and gloves.

“You can do surgery in our kitchen,” joked Loi.

Despite the long hours, with a typical day at the restaurant clocking in at 14 hours, and the potential health risks, both Loi and Clair say it’s worth it.

“It’s just seeing the happiness on these on the nurses’ faces. It’s getting the pictures and the emails and how appreciative they are,” Clair said. “And I just feel like if we could make someone’s day right now, it means so much. Because they are out there on the frontlines fighting for the sick this second, I think it really makes a difference.”

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