Volunteers deliver meals to hospitals during coronavirus crisis


AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

A woman walks on the sidewalk in front of NorthShore Skokie Hospital sign in Skokie, Ill., Friday, March 27, 2020. Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued a stay-at-home order for the entire state, which went into effect on March 21, 2020 and lasts through at least April 7.

A group of chefs, restaurant owners, consultants, doctors, law students and others has come up with a way to put restaurant workers who were thrown out of work by the coronavirus crisis back in the kitchen and give health care workers treating people sickened by the virus something to eat besides hospital food.

It’s called Off Their Plate. Launched in Boston last month and now operating in New York, Los Angeles and other cities, Off Their Plate has most recently come to Chicago. The concept is simple: Restaurants that receive money from private donations and grants agree to use that money to pay their furloughed employees to make meals that are then distributed to area health care facilities.

“We exist to support those on the dual front lines of this unprecedented crisis,” Natalie Guo, the group’s founder said in a news release. “Our fearless healthcare workers healing the sick, and our tireless restaurant workers fueling the fight.”

Thus far, the group said restaurants such as Seoul Taco, Left Coast Food + Juice, the Fifty/50 Restaurant Group and others prepared more than 1,000 meals that have been distributed to seven Chicago area health care facilities. There, they go directly to doctors, nurses and other medical professionals working in intensive care units and COVID-19 wards, with a goal of ultimately delivering more than 10,000 meals a week to as many health care facilities as possible.

“Given how quickly Boston got up to 20,000 we don’t think that is a particularly ambitious goal,” said Adam Smith, a law school student and a leader for Off Their Plate in Chicago.

Smith said that about $2.5 million has been raised nationally to fund the effort, with that money going to restaurants on the condition that half of what they get goes right to the workers.

Restaurants have been hit hard by the virus that has required them to close their dining rooms. Many, like the restaurant owned by Smith’s parents, have been forced to close completely. Others, that can only sell their food via delivery or pickup, have had to lay off many of their employees or reduce the hours of those they have kept on.