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With Americans spending most of their time at home and personal contact limited by the coronavirus pandemic, many have found solace, connection and help online, and especially on social media.
In Beverly Hills, sites like Facebook and Instagram are also driving a movement to support local businesses, thank health care workers and raise the community’s morale. Last month, Laura Margo heard about a New Jersey pizzeria and its plea for help so that its employees could continue to be paid. In response, many in that New Jersey community bought pizzas from the store to give to first responders and health care workers.
“I woke up at 4 a.m. [the next day] so excited and thought ‘I could do this,’” Margo said.
Margo, who is married to Beverly Hills Unified School District board member Noah Margo, began her program, Meal to Heal, with one order of 100 pizzas from Mulberry Street Pizzeria for Cedars-Sinai Medical Center employees. She turned to Facebook to spread the word, and “the community was really excited about it,” she said.
“Everybody was really pumped up and wanting to donate a lot,” Margo added.
Four weeks later, Meal to Heal serves at least one meal a day for 100 or more employees at Cedars-Sinai, though a few times each week, both lunch and dinner will be served. The meals are $15 each and are purchased by community members, who can either call the restaurants directly or visit the Rotary Club of Beverly Hills’ website, store.bhrotary.org/mealtoheal, where the Rotary Club covers the credit card fees.
“Even if you only want to spend $15 a week, $15 is a big deal to the restaurants here, and it’s a big deal for the people who receive the meals,” Margo said.
The health care workers also appreciate the meals, Margo said. They frequently send her photos of them enjoying the food, and hospital workers who have not yet received a meal have reached out to Margo to find out how they can get on the list.
“Pretty much, every single day we have someone [from Cedars-Sinai] contacting us, either through Instagram, or Facebook or emailing me directly, asking if their unit can be included,” Margo said.
The program has also expanded across the state, with new Meal to Heal programs starting in the Bay Area, Studio City and L.A. coastal areas. Margo has also been in touch with groups in other cities who would like to start their own Meal to Heal chapters.
Margo said all five members of the Beverly Hills City Council have provided advice and purchased meals, and her social media following is growing, allowing her to reach more potential donors each week.
Councilwoman Lili Bosse said Meal to Heal is “a really important opportunity to show our gratitude to our health care heroes … as well as our local restaurants.”
“We’re unable to be with each other physically, but … we need each other now more than ever. It’s a way for us to connect in this same way. It’s a way for us to feel like we’re doing something together, and a way to connect for good causes. This is an example of the positive side of social media,” Bosse said.
Beverly Hills restaurateurs said in a time when dine-in service is prohibited, they appreciate the extra business provided by the health care worker meals.
David Levy, who owns Otro Dia Tacos, Roni’s Diner and Spooning, said the additional meals allow him to hire more employees per shift.
“Once this whole thing started, that was my main concern, my full-time employees. My dad and I who own the business will be OK, but some of my employees live paycheck to paycheck. It’s really been refreshing to know that I’m able to still be there for them and provide for them, because they’re there for me around the year,” Levy said.
Jeff Gross, owner of Mickey Fine Pharmacy and Grill, said while he’s hopeful that he’ll get a few new customers once the pandemic ends, the focus is “giving back and helping the community.”
“It was more of an obligation to keep as much of my staff as possible, my team, employed. I’m not making money currently with the volume of the diner, but I’m hopeful that once things start opening up, we’ll be ready and the community will be ready to come back in whichever way the governor and the city allows us to open up,” he said.
Bosse said there’s benefit for those who donate, too, as “there is no better feeling in the world than to be able to give back.”
“What I love best about our city is we have a tremendous amount of heart and we’re there for each other. It’s yet another example of what makes Beverly Hills so special,” she said.
Margo said that community response has encouraged her in a trying time.
“Beverly Hills right now is working like such a team. I’ve never felt the camaraderie I feel right now. I’m so proud of everyone … The fact that people are excited about what we’re doing and commenting, it really feels like we’re bringing the whole community together to fight together,” Margo said.
For information, visit mealtohealusa.org.
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