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Frontline Foods delivers meals to Laguna Beach firefighters

Laguna Beach Fire Chief Michael Garcia, right, is given bags of prepared meals from Frontline Foods' Eric Paine on Monday in observance of International Firefighters Day.
Laguna Beach Fire Chief Michael Garcia, right, is given bags of prepared meals from Frontline Foods’ Eric Paine on Monday in observance of International Firefighters Day.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Breakfast is often described as one of the most important meals of the day and Laguna Beach firefighters didn’t miss theirs when Frontline Foods came to deliver food in observance of International Firefighters Day.

Acai and breakfast bowls from Active Culture were delivered to Laguna Beach’s Downtown Fire Station 1 on Forest Avenue by Rep. Harley Rouda (D-Laguna Beach), Mayor Bob Whalen, City Manager John Pietig and organizers early Monday morning. The meals delivered were part of over 300 prepared meals to be delivered throughout the county to firefighters and EMT workers.

“Orange County firefighters and EMTs are on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis, fighting to keep families safe,” Rouda said. “It was an honor to join Frontline Foods and fellow Laguna Beach officials to give back to the men and women working around the clock to protect us.”

“Our first responders are the ones we’re counting on the most right now,” Whalen added. “Our fire, police, marine safety — they’re doing an incredible job for us and this is just a small way to thank them."

Laguna Beach City Manager John Pietig, left, Mayor Bob Whalen and Rep. Harley Rouda (D-Laguna Beach) chat with Laguna Beach firefighters on Monday.
Laguna Beach City Manager John Pietig, left, Mayor Bob Whalen and Rep. Harley Rouda (D-Laguna Beach) chat with Laguna Beach firefighters on Monday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Whalen said he was appreciative of Rouda and Frontline Foods’ collaboration, adding that the meal delivery was a small gesture to say thank you for everything that first responders are doing.

“These guys are at it 24/7, so, terrific job and we just have the highest level of respect and appreciation to those guys,” he added.

The county had 131 new cases and four deaths reported Wednesday, according to numbers from the Orange County Health Care Agency.

Laguna Beach Fire Chief Michael Garcia said that he was contacted by Eric Paine, one of the Orange County chapter leads, last week about the meal delivery.

“My first response when I called him was that I hate to say it that way, but there’s so many others in need. The hospital workers and things like that, it was like, ‘Are you sure you don’t want to do them?’” Garcia said. “We had that talk and we said it was funny. Firefighters want to help everyone else.”

“They don’t want help necessarily,” he added.

The national grassroots organization, whose Orange County chapter began about two months ago, initially focused on providing meals for healthcare workers and hospitals. The organization began when friends of Sydney Gressel, a pediatric nurse at UCSF in San Francisco, asked how they could help Gressel and her colleagues on the “frontlines” of combating the COVID-19 pandemic. Gressel asked for pizza.

The organization partners with World Central Kitchen, led by chef José Andrés.

Rep. Harley Rouda (D-Laguna Beach), right, gives a bag of prepared meals to Laguna Beach Fire Chief Michael Garcia on Monday.
Rep. Harley Rouda (D-Laguna Beach), right, gives a bag of prepared meals to Laguna Beach Fire Chief Michael Garcia on Monday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

The organization works with local restaurants and the delivery of meals on Monday were funded by donations and a $55,000 grant from 9/11 Day, a nonprofit that focuses on charitable engagement on Sept. 11 in remembrance of victims of the Sept. 11 and other terrorist attacks.

Paine, who lives in Newport Beach, said Frontline Foods has delivered about 2,500 meals to more than 16 hospitals. From that, he added, Frontline Foods has been able to pay local restaurants more than $33,000, helping them while they struggle to stay open during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A lot of workers had to be furloughed, so with that money, they’re able to rehire people and it just kind of helps out the restaurant ecosystem,” Paine said. “These restaurants that we work with are the mom and pop shops ... by us, in some orders, they could be delivering 200 meals to a hospital. That’s quite of a bit of money for them to help pay rent, pay employees, things like that. The other part is you have hospital workers that some are just working long hours.”

“Lot of times, it’s hard for them to prepare a meal,” Paine said. “So, by us delivering healthy meals which usually focuses around a protein, a vegetable and a starch, not only are we providing a meal, but we’re all showing that the community cares."

Laguna Beach Fire Chief Michael Garcia, left, hands prepared acai and breakfast bowls to firefighters Brandon Hawkins, Pat Cary and Capt. Eric Lether on Monday.
Laguna Beach Fire Chief Michael Garcia, left, hands prepared acai and breakfast bowls to firefighters Brandon Hawkins, Pat Cary and Capt. Eric Lether on Monday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Katie Russell, a Costa Mesa resident and chapter lead for Orange County, said she felt it was important to support local businesses at this time and boost morale where possible. She said restaurants sign up to work with Frontline Foods and then organizers set up contacts with hospitals or other first responders.

Laguna Beach fire Capt. Eric Lether said firefighters loved the support from the community and that people have recognized the different ways that the Fire Department has had to change the way that service is provided to residents.

“It means a lot that they realize that and they’re supportive of the efforts that we’re making to try to not only keep the community safe but to keep us safe so that we’re available for the community in a time of need,” Lether said.

Firefighter Brandon Hawkins said he appreciated the gesture and that firefighters were here to support the community every day.

“It’s really cool to see our community come together as a cohesive group and help out in any way shape or form in a challenging time such as this,” Hawkins said. “We definitely appreciate it. It’s nice to see the entirety of the community working together just to get through a time that’s tough for everybody.”

Laguna Beach Fire Chief Michael Garcia, Mayor Bob Whalen and Rep. Harley Rouda (D-Laguna Beach), from left and in front, and firefighters thank Frontline Foods with a group photo after they were given prepared meals on Monday.
Laguna Beach Fire Chief Michael Garcia, Mayor Bob Whalen and Rep. Harley Rouda (D-Laguna Beach), from left and in front, and firefighters thank Frontline Foods with a group photo after they were given prepared meals on Monday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

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