Toronto Star

Feeding the frontlines


- —Alexandra Donaldson

Due to their razor-thin profit margins, restaurant­s have been some of the hardest-hit businesses in the wake of social-distancing measures. Despite this, the industry continues to do what it does best—provide comfort to those who need it through expertly prepared meals. Regular operations might have been suspended, but the urge to serve the community never left.

“I went from running a restaurant of 1,000-plus covers a night to sitting on my couch wondering how I could help,” says Laura MacDonald-Rumi, the general manager of Terroni Adelaide. On March 24, a few days after she was laid off, MacDonald-Rumi started a GoFundMe page to raise money so that Terroni and General Assembly could facilitate pizza drops to Toronto hospitals. “My sister’s girlfriend is a nurse, and I saw how tired and stressed she was. I just figured if I can feed people, I’m doing something.” They surpassed the initial goal of $900 on March 26, just two days after launching. They have since reached almost $9,000 with MacDonaldR­umi and her husband delivering more than 1,000 pizzas to 10 different hospitals, with the help of General Assembly restaurant owner Alu Khan Lalani.

Many Toronto restaurant­s, hotels and non-profits are finding ways to feed frontline healthcare workers, often relying on donations to do so. The Hazleton Hotel is using its kitchen and remaining staff members to donate meals to local churches, community centres and senior care centres, often with the hotel restaurant ONE’s chef, Darby Piquette, dropping donations off himself. “It’s been rewarding to watch our team help those in need,” says managing director Hani Roustom.

Some restaurant­s are working with non-profits like Operation Head to Toe, which is now raising money for the MSICU Department at Toronto General Hospital. “We approached the restaurant­s directly using our personal connection­s to put together a team—and every restaurant we approached was ready and willing to take part,” says Cherisse Receno, of Operation Head to Toe. “Every business offered a preferred rate as their way of giving back, but we also wanted to make sure to put some money in their pockets, so 100 per cent of the donations raised are used to purchase the meals for frontline workers.”

Other restaurant­s have banded together with like-minded business owners to form their own programs, like the aptly named Marinara Boys, which includes Bar Ape, Famiglia Baldassarr­e, Sugo and Sovereign Café. The group has raised $34,756 toward preparing and delivering meals to those in need. After the first wave of donations, the group expanded its mission beyond providing meals to healthcare workers, so that it could also help other food-insecure groups and support the restaurant industry and its adjacent industries, such as farming and food supply.

“We already had connection­s in this distributi­on chain that were broken,” says James Carnevale of Bar Ape. “We had an opportunit­y to patch it up a bit.” Marinara Boys has since partnered with other businesses, buying meals from them to include in its hospital meal drops. “We need to open our eyes to see the food system and food insecurity at large,” says Leandro Baldassarr­e of Famiglia Baldassarr­e. This includes considerin­g other community members like the homeless and donating to food banks and community centres. “We have the power to do that now with the donations and our ability to cook and put food out there,” says Baldassarr­e.

As one of our hardest hit industries works overtime to feed our frontlines, you can help, too, by shopping and purchasing takeout from these spots and donating to the still-active fundraisin­g pages. And the next time you’re able to make your way to a restaurant for a meal out, head to the spots that did everything they could to serve the community at a time when they couldn’t serve you. This content was funded but not approved by the advertiser.

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