Community effort feeds hospital workers while supporting local restaurants

At a time when healthcare workers are working overtime and empty restaurants are depending on takeout orders and deliveries to stay afloat, a Tampa woman came up with an idea to help both at the same time. 

Thanks to the internet and the generosity of the community, the "Together for Tampa, Neighbors Helping Neighbors" program is quickly gaining momentum.

"I just thought, why don't we put them both together and see if we can mobilize the community to spend some money and do good on both ends. It was a win-win," said Michelle Aughey.

Her idea? People can call a restaurant, donate a $10 meal and it will be delivered to Tampa General Hospital staff.

"What I realize is that, when things like this happen, people are sitting home and they feel they want to do something but they don't know how," Aughey said. "And, this was, you know what? Open your wallets and now you can feel good that you did something for, both our neighborhood restaurants and businesses who are having a tough time and also the people who are really putting themselves on the front line with what's coming and what's already here."

She created a "Neighbors Helping Neighbors" group on the Nextdoor app and posted a meal train schedule. Si-Am Thaimerican will handle dinner donations on Mondays. Island Pizza has dinner on Tuesdays, the list goes on.

"We started with Island Pizza on Tuesday," Aughey said. "We got twenty pizzas that day."

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Starting next week, people can call Datz to donate dinner on Fridays. They were already busy when we stopped by Friday afternoon, as they prepared and packed other community-donated meals for John Hopkins All Children's Hospital.

Stephen Dohack, owner of Si-Am Thaimerican said, "I was excited to say the least that we would be able to help out the people on the front lines of TGH."

There, the lunch business has dropped 90%. Dinner orders have dropped by about 50%.

"We're serving a chicken pineapple fried rice on Monday," Dohack said. "We anticipate we'll change it up every week and give them new and exciting dishes the second and third week that we do it."

This effort not only allows them to fuel hospital workers, but they're also now able to start bringing back laid-off employees.

"This program is certainly going to help. On a Monday, we are going to have a full staff," Dohack said. "Now, this gives them an avenue where they can reward the nurses and doctors and certainly help to keep the local businesses open."

The group organizing the meal train for TGH created its own Facebook page, called Together for Tampa, to get more people involved. 

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