Feed Our Medics: helping the helpers
Feed Our Medics has been providing nutritious, COVID-safe meals and a welcome morale boost to exhausted frontline healthcare workers in NSW hospitals for the past two years. Founded by Joeline Hackman and Lizzie Wall from Sydney’s Northern Beaches, Feed Our Medics uses donations from the public to purchase food from struggling cafes and restaurants, which is then delivered to the hospitals hardest hit by COVID.
“During the first wave, my husband [a doctor] said it was difficult to buy food because people weren’t aware of infection control procedures,” Hackman says. “Also, nursing friends were coming home after long shifts and supermarket shelves were empty. Having all those patients and their own families to care for, I thought, how are they surviving?”
At the same time, Wall had friends who owned cafes. Because people were locked down or too afraid of COVID to go out, these businesses had no customers.
“So we thought, why don’t we put the two together?” Hackman says. “Support small businesses by giving them a big order, then deliver that order to the medics.”
The pair started a GoFundMe that night. The very next day, they used funds raised to order meals from a local cafe and delivered them to their local hospital.
“Then we just kept going,” Hackman says. “We kept talking about what we were doing, and people kept donating. It’s completely funded by the community.”
Crunching the numbers
Feed Our Medics uses NSW COVID data to pinpoint which hospitals have the greatest concentration of COVID patients, particularly in intensive care units (ICUs). From there, the organisation chooses the top five impacted hospitals and delivers meals to them.
Cafes and restaurants that want to be involved must provide a copy of their food safety certificate. Feed Our Medics also asks them to complete a brief free online training course about preparing food in a COVID-safe manner. The size of the food order they receive then depends on the size of the hospitals being supplied.
“If it’s somewhere like Westmead Hospital, they have five ICUs,” Hackman says. “So we’d need at least 100 meals. But if it’s a smaller hospital, like when there was an outbreak in Wilcannia, it’s a much smaller staff. So we would only need 20, 25 meals.”
Meeting all needs
By talking to the medical staff they’re working to support, Hackman and Wall have also learned about the importance of catering to a variety of dietary needs.
“We ask that a percentage of meals are vegetarian, gluten-free and dairy-free,” Hackman says. “Some hospitals have a high rate of multiculturalism, so we ensure they have a halal option. At other hospitals, vegan food is a requirement. I go to a lot of nurses’ Facebook groups. I ask, who’s working where? What do you guys want there?”
Feed Our Medics also has a good relationship with hospital management. But Hackman says they’re often so grateful to be receiving anything, they usually don’t ask for specifics.
“It wasn’t until we asked individual nurses that we got a clear idea,” she says. “One woman said to me recently, ‘Those wraps were nice. But in Bankstown, we really would love a good Arab feed.’ I made sure that we did that next time.”
The response from healthcare workers has been overwhelmingly in its gratitude. But as Hackman says, their first thoughts are frequently for others.
“The first thing they usually say is, what about the paramedics? What about the cleaners?” she says. “They’re not used to receiving things; they’re used to giving to their patients. But we also receive a lot of thank-you messages.
“One registered nurse told us that after working 12-hour shifts for five days, he hadn’t had time to have a proper nutritious meal. So it really made a difference to his week.”
There are many similar messages of thanks. And not just from hospital staff. A cafe owner in Manly wrote, “Tourism has plummeted since COVID. Working with Feed Our Medics has given us the chance to support our community and get a much-needed cash boost.”
Some cafes have been inspired to offer their own support. After hearing that Feed Our Medics was supplying 500 medics with free coffee on Valentine’s Day, Astin Min in Collaroy asked customers to pay a coffee forward, inviting healthcare workers for a free coffee.
Food from the heart
Feed Our Medics has now delivered more than 2300 meals to hospitals across NSW. As well as ensuring meals meet COVID-safe and dietary requirements, the aim is to provide food that will give medical staff sustained energy to get through a shift.
“We ensure the meals contain protein, vegies and carbs,” Hackman says. “It has to be something nutritious. It’s not fancy food. It’s just good quality food, from the heart.”
Feed Our Medics is currently looking for cafe partners in Wilcannia and the Central Darling Shire. But the organisation is always looking for small businesses to support all over NSW. Particularly where COVID is hitting the community and the medics that care for them.