Sydney Poretsky, a first-year graduate student in communication at the university, is exemplifying the Pro Humanitate spirit as she spreads hope throughout the Winston-Salem community during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Alongside multiple members of a Winston-Salem family, Poretsky co-founded Fuel the Fight Winston-Salem in a grassroots effort to provide meals for health care workers who are on the front lines of the daily battle against COVID-19, as well as support local restaurants facing the economic impacts of the pandemic. All meals are purchased through charitable donations to the Fuel the Fight Winston-Salem GoFundMe page.
The Fuel the Fight movement began in March in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The mission of using 100% of the money fundraised to provide food purchased from local restaurants to health care workers has since inspired local branches in many cities across the U.S., including Boston and the D.C. metro area, as well as internationally in London.
Through the GoFundMe, Fuel the Fight Winston-Salem reached $20,000 in donations in less than five days, and has since achieved over $25,000 toward its goal of $30,000. With the financial contributions of charitable donors, over 1,000 meals have been delivered from local restaurants to hospital workers in two weeks.
Working overtime to help overtime workers
The large volume of deliveries means that when she’s not working on coursework from her home in Winston-Salem, Poretsky is delivering meals for lunch and dinner to hospital workers at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center and Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.
“It’s definitely a lot to balance right now, but it’s such an important cause that it makes it worth it to have a little bit more of a hectic schedule these days,” Poretsky said.
Co-founder Kate Cavenaugh agreed, explaining the new roles that her family members and herself have assumed as philanthropic heroes during this time of crisis.
As the community liaison, Kate Cavenaugh coordinates food orders and schedules pick-up with local restaurants, as well as encourages community involvement while responding to emails and direct messages sent from community members to Fuel the Fight social media accounts and providing daily updates on the GoFundMe page.
Her mom, Evan Cavanaugh, is in charge of coordinating with Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center Health and Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center. Her dad and brother, Jay Cavenaugh III and Jay Cavenaugh IV, are responsible for picking up the meals from the restaurants and then delivering them to the hospitals.
“I think it is important to recognize the many different ways in which people have been impacted by the current situation,” Jay Cavenaugh said. “If everyone gives a little bit, that adds up to make a significant difference.”
“I have never been more proud to be a Winstonian”
As the organizers lead the effort, the support of the Winston-Salem community and each donation have also been integral to making the meal deliveries a reality.
“The response to Fuel the Fight Winston-Salem from community members, restaurants, and medical professionals has really blown the whole team away,” Kate Cavenaugh said. “I have never been more proud to be a Winstonian than these past few weeks.”
In addition to donations, members of the Winston-Salem community have provided support through emailed recommendations of restaurants. The local restaurants they have partnered with so far include Delicious by Shereen, The Porch, Bagel Station, Little Richard’s Barbecue, Mission Nutrition, The Loop, Bobo’s, Prime Tyme Soul Food Café, Forsyth County Seafood and many more.
Many local restaurants have also demonstrated support for the initiative by opening several hours earlier than normal in order to prepare the food in time for the scheduled deliveries. The restaurant owners and workers have also expressed their gratitude for the initiative’s financial assistance, as well as the opportunity to help health care workers.
“I was contacted by Sydney to partner with Fuel the Fight Winston-Salem by preparing meals to be delivered to healthcare workers in Winston-Salem,” said Shereen Gomaa, the owner of Delicious by Shereen. “I loved the idea and our organization wanted to support these heroes in any way that we could.”
The outpouring of support from the community has been greatly appreciated by the hospital workers, who can look forward to warm meals each day as they pace the cold corridors of the hospital on the front lines of the battle against COVID-18.
“It lets the teams know that the entire community is behind them and supporting them — that they aren’t alone in this,” said Heather Norman, the director of nursing of the Emergency Department of Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center. “Sending a meal gives the team one less thing to worry about each day — as meal options are limited in these times.”
The provision of meals takes away the preoccupation with other aspects of daily life and allows the doctors to focus their attention on testing and treating the victims of COVID-19, as well as work toward developing a vaccine.
“In the midst of chaos, it’s so encouraging to see community members band together and want to make an impactful difference in the lives of our frontline team members,” said Laura Holby, the director of community engagement for Novant Health’s greater Winston-Salem market. “Even more meaningful is the idea behind the movement, as it not only feeds frontline team members, but also supports local restaurants, who are struggling right now.”
Winning the battle against COVID-19 on a second front: the local economy
This movement has created a positive feedback loop that counters COVID-19 with a two-fold response. First, purchasing the meals provides financial support for local restaurants fighting to stay afloat in the struggling economy. Then, the delivery of the meals to the hospital provides nutritional fuel for the health care workers as they continue their efforts in the medical battle against COVID-19.
Thus, the meal orders have injected much needed income into the local Winston-Salem economy, in which many restaurants and businesses have already lost revenue due to social distancing guidelines and the stay-at-home order, among other public health measures necessitated by COVID-19.
In fact, partnering restaurant Delicious by Shereen had been previously forced to cancel catering services due to the outbreak of COVID-19, as large social gatherings of people are no longer allowed. Yet, Fuel the Fight Winston-Salem revitalized the restaurant’s catering services as the organizers reenvisioned how Delicious by Shereen could continue to provide meals to hospital workers.
“We had all of our spring and summer catering events cancelled due to COVID-19, so this was a great opportunity to let people who haven’t tried our food before to taste authentic Mediterranean cuisine,” Gomaa said.
Delicious by Shereen is an important partner, because Fuel the Fight-Winston Salem has provided support for the 501(c)(3) nonprofit’s mission of empowering refugee women with the ability to use cooking skills in order to financially provide for their families.
“[Fuel the Fight Winston-Salem] allowed the Syrian refugee women who partner with us to make up some lost income due to the COVID-19,” Gomaa said. “I also hope that people will become more aware of our organization’s mission and vision and work with our catering company in the future so that we can continue to support the refugee population here in our community.”
The scheduled meal pick-ups help to alleviate the financial burden placed on this already marginalized population within the community, as well as on other victims of COVID-19. By providing a more steady monetary flow into the hands of local restaurant owners and workers through the placement of meal orders, Fuel the Fight Winston-Salem has also expanded the battle against COVID-19 to a second front — the local economy.
As Fuel the Fight Winston-Salem bolsters the local economy and feeds local health-care workers, it also strengthens the bond between members of the community, as they see how each small action is a step toward recovery from this crisis. Each donation, each meal cooked and each delivery is impactful. To show their gratitude, the health care workers send a photo of them smiling, with thumbs up.
“The pictures that come out directly after each of our deliveries and seeing the looks on each of the nurses and hospital workers’ faces reminds me why this is so worth all of our time,” Poretsky said.