Meal train lets locals treat USC Verdugo Hills Hospital staff working through pandemic

Chief Operating Officer Kenny Pawlek, center, and executive assistant Elen Borja, right, stand next to a Chinese food delivery from New Moon, at Verdugo Hills Hospital in Glendale on Tuesday, April 7, 2020.
(Raul Roa/La Cañada Valley Sun)

While special deliveries at USC Verdugo Hills Hospital are in normal times confined to Labor and Delivery, meal deliveries have become a touchstone between weary workers and an appreciative public since the hospital closed to visitors in its battle against the novel coronavirus.

For the past two weeks, residents and local businesses in La Cañada Flintridge and La Crescenta/Montrose have been signing up to take breakfast, lunch and dinner to hospital employees who’ve been putting in full shifts throughout the pandemic.

La Crescenta resident Ashley Bell was part of a group of Mountain Avenue Elementary School moms that in late March began voluntarily bringing coffee, snacks and hand-drawn children’s cards to workers in USC VHH’s Emergency and ICU units.

“This seemed like a streamlined way to make sure we were taking care of our healthcare workers,” Bell said of the effort. “We could at least make sure they had a hot meal and a full tummy.”

Fellow moms Kelly Cicuto and Jill Caballero organized donations as deliveries became more regular and grew to include other departments in the hospital.

Jun Chin from Fiesta FastFood, left, drops off multiple trays of food for the employees at Verdugo Hills Hospital in Glendale on Tuesday, April 7, 2020.
(Raul Roa/La Cañada Valley Sun)

Today, an online “meal train” allows locals to sign up so breakfast, lunch and dinner can be delivered to multiple floors throughout the hospital. People can also donate money or gift cards that will be collected until there’s enough for a meal.

For example, 12 meals sponsored by families and local businesses were scheduled for delivery on Wednesday to recipients in radiology, ICU, Medical/Surgical departments and one floor where employees are caring for patients with COVID-19.

USC Verdugo Hills Hospital Chief Operating Officer Kenny Pawlek said many employees are still working at the facility, in some cases providing services once offered by volunteers no longer allowed to visit patients.

Officials have begun offering basic grocery items to staff members who don’t have the time and energy to brave lines in search of common household items.

While the hospital’s cafeteria remains open, the regular meal deliveries, and encouraging notes that often accompany them, provide momentarily relief from the added stress of reporting for duty during a pandemic.

Verdugo Hills Hospital employees pick up lunch delivered from El Pollo Loco, at the hospital lobby in Glendale on Tuesday, April 7, 2020.
(Raul Roa/La Cañada Valley Sun)

“It’s so appreciated by our entire team here,” Pawlek said Monday. “They’re just keeping on so we stay fed and have the things we need and can still exist as people and have some semblance of humanity — it’s great to see the love within the community.”

Bell said the USC Verdugo Hills meal train not only allows locals to support the hospital but also the many La Cañada, Montrose and La Crescenta businesses that may have seen a decline in patronage during shelter-in-place restrictions.

“Everybody is coming together and doing what we can to support the hospital and, at the same time, support our friends’ businesses trying to stay afloat,” she said. “That’s been a very, very happy consequence of all this.”

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