Feed­ing the front­lines

RESTAU­RANTS ARE US­ING THEIR RE­SOURCES TO HELP TORONTO’S ES­SEN­TIAL WORK­ERS

Toronto Star - - ON THE FOOD 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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