When faced with the restrictions that came with the pandemic, Home Grown Café Owner Sasha Aber and her staff repurposed the popular restaurant as a place of giving.Dec 29, 2020 04:39PM ● By Tricia Hoadley
When the coronavirus pandemic hit in the middle of March – when the entire world seemed to reach for the panic button and everything that was considered normal had suddenly and without warning vanished – Home Grown Café Owner Sasha Aber read an article that was sent to her from a friend on social media.
A restaurant in southern California, faced with the same dilemma that Aber and every other restaurant owner in America was now dealing with, had reached out to their customers and surrounding community for help. The result had not only given the restaurant purpose during a period of shut down, it had redefined it: Through private donations, the restaurant began to prepare and deliver meals to healthcare workers in the area.
The article lit a fuse in Aber that could only be described as the perfect melding of decency, integrity, engagement, resourcefulness and ingenuity. She began discussions with the restaurant’s General Manager Matt McConnell and its Executive Chef Andrew Thorne to begin a similar initiative for healthcare workers in Delaware. Our healthcare workers are using their skills and compassion and taking care of those who need it the most, she said. We can do the very same thing. We can help those who are helping us.
On March 30, Aber created Home Grown Cafe’s Adopt-a-Unit@Christiana Care GoFundMe page, and suddenly, the kitchen transformed from a space where take-out meals were now prepared to an all-hands-on-deck mission. Within hours, the word had gotten out that something extraordinary was happening at Home Grown Café; that this was an idea that appeals to so many who are not only confined to their homes but overwhelmed with a helplessness that they can not help those who are working on the front lines of a global health crisis.
Contributions came in, and a week later, Aber began delivering meals to healthcare workers at ChristianaCare locations in Middletown, Newark and Wilmington – reaching those who were working in the most critical situations. She arrived with trays of fresh food – entrees, sandwiches, salads and side dishes.
Meanwhile, the idea saw an immediate and staggering response. By May 7, the fund had raised $21,801 through contributions from 397 donors. On May 27, the number had climbed to $23,678, with donations from 425 community members.
“The Adopt-a-Unit fund has been a win-win-win in three different ways,” Aber said. “It has helped to keep my staff employed. It has given our customers and the community the chance to extend their compassion to the healthcare workers who risk their lives every day, and it gives our healthcare workers a healthy meal, along with a note sharing our encouragement and appreciation when we drop off the food that says that their meal has been made possible by the community’s generosity or by a private donor.
“The liaisons at ChristianaCare have been instrumental in pairing Home Grown with units, too.”
The program’s matrix is simple: Once meal donations for a single unit are fulfilled – a $50 donation will provide about four meals – Aber makes a delivery to a unit of ChristianaCare that has been contacted in advance. To date, over 2,200 meals have been made and distributed to healthcare workers in 35 units and 54 shifts that range from ICU units to testing facilities – an effort that reaches between 20 to 160 employees per shift.
Among the many departments the Home Grown Café has delivered to in the ChristianaCare system include blood bank and pathology units; constables; critical care and medical units; security teams; testing facilities; occupational therapists; front desk staff, valet and patient escorts; respiratory therapy units; mobile COVID-19 testing laboratories; pharmacies; cardiac and cardiology units; infection prevention centers; COVID lab processing units; employee health services teams; labor and delivery; housekeeping staff and the morgue.
Now in its third month, the Adopt-A-Unit @ ChristianaCare GoFundMe program has continued to expand through community engagement, Aber said.
“Soon after our deliveries began, I began to hear from friends and family of frontline staff, and customers who recommended other units we could distribute to,” she said. “The project has really taken on a life of its own. The people who have reached out have joined our GoFundMe campaign as members, and that allows them to be able to link to the page, and share it with friends and family.”
During Home Grown Café’s first delivery, Aber’s eyes began to well up with tears, and every so often when she drops off lunch or dinner -- when the magnitude of the pandemic becomes too overwhelming to comprehend – her emotions take over when she thinks about those who will soon take a break from their 12-hour shift to enjoy a well-deserved few moments of peace.
“The program has made everything a lot more real to me,” she said. “I have a relative who passed away from coronavirus. I have another relative whose life has been compromised as a result of the pandemic, and I have friends who been through it. Being at hospitals during the week has given me an entirely different view of what’s really happening.
“I plan to do this as long as possible, to continue to drive it and see what I can do with it,” Aber said of the delivery program. “We’re continuing to think outside the box in ways to continue to expand this, because the problem isn’t going away anytime soon.”
One evening in May, Aber drove to ChristianaCare’s Newark campus. The reception areas at this time of day are very quiet, save for doctors making rounds and nurses checking in on their patients. While waiting for a hospital staffer to greet her, she heard something magical permeate the usual stillness. It was the sound of clapping and cheering.
There in front of her were 40 healthcare workers who had made two separate lines in the lobby. As she got closer to the entrance, there between the lines, a patient in a wheelchair was being led out of the hospital.
The healthcare workers were there to say “Good-Bye.” The patient had conquered coronavirus, and was now going home.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].
Make your contribution to your local healthcare workers.
To make your donation to the Home Grown Café’s Adopt-a-Unit @ Christiana Care GoFundMe initiative, visit www.homegrowncafe.com or call (302) 266-6993. For additional information or to sponsor a whole unit, contact Sasha Aber at [email protected].