As the coronavirus began to shutter the city and my catering company, Great Performances, the staff began to retool the kitchen for the unexpected. Within days, we started to produce and deliver the first of 40,000 weekly meals for the Department for The Aged to housebound elderly, no longer able to go to their local senior center for meals and company. In times of emergency, we are feeding the most vulnerable New Yorkers and keeping our family at work. This is what we want do, instead of staying at home.
The term is "to pivot." Before the days of COVID-19, we had a robust kitchen staff working daily to produce high-end menus for dozens of events daily at elite venues, private homes and cultural institutions. Not today. There are no parties, gatherings or celebrations. We are each isolated at home, and if we are lucky, in the company of someone we love.
But every day, email brings another message of need in ways we never envisioned; we are hired to fulfill requests to send meals to heroic and overworked hospital staff, day care centers, beleaguered pantries and community centers serving communities facing unprecedented need. Our kitchen is busy preparing and packaging these meals, wanting to do more for others. We are motivated by the sense of urgency.
Instead of serving Spring galas, our waitstaff fan out into designated neighborhoods with lists of where to deliver meal packages for the elderly. Sara is one of our event planners whose job vanished. Instead, she has been delivering meals:
“It was amazing to see the production of these meals in our busy kitchen that would have otherwise been empty right now," Sara said.
"Many of the seniors I saw lived alone, and a lot of them told me they hadn’t seen anyone in a few weeks, wondering when I would be back again. One woman asked me to please stay and talk to her for a few minutes and she told me about her children and grandchildren who live upstate. She asked when I thought she would be able to walk to the Senior Center and see her friends again, I didn’t have an answer for her. I took the elevator back down and cried with a maintenance worker who had heard me and said that we have given him faith in humanity right now, what an amazing thing we were doing. I think I will remember this moment for the rest of my life."
Sara added: "Being able to help in some very small way has been extremely rewarding and definitely has put things into perspective. The smallest act of kindness right now can truly change someone’s life.”
Kevin, an actor and longtime party captain, organizes the delivery teams. He is experiencing a personal sense of gratitude not often felt when passing trays of hors d’oeuvres or serving a room of hundreds:
“We make a lot of deliveries, and everyone is always appreciative. But once a day — maybe twice if you’re lucky — there is someone who is so grateful and touched that it makes your heart break. Those people most especially put a very human face on what we’re doing.”
We look forward to returning to our lives as caterers for galas, weddings, special events and crowded celebrations. But we remain hospitality professionals regardless of the meal we are serving – leading with care and respect, knowing that every meal is meaningful, most especially now.
It is an act of courage and resiliency. It is an act of faith. Despite our fears, it is in our nature to help others. We do it with food, bringing hope and humanity to those who need it most.
Every conversation ends with the same words: Be careful, stay safe.
"The smallest act of kindness right now can truly change someone’s life.” Sara, event planner for Great Performances