By Daniel Wu
Stanford associate professor of medicine Holly Tabor Ph.D. ’02 knew the pressures that her colleagues at Stanford Hospital were facing. While she couldn’t provide N95 masks or ventilators to relieve her beleaguered coworkers, she texted a friend who might be able to serve up the next best thing.
Now, two weeks later, Tabor’s group Meals of Gratitude has raised over $60,000 in donations to provide free restaurant meals to Stanford Hospital staff working amid the coronavirus outbreak.
The organization, co-founded by Tabor and local restaurateur Jesse Cool on March 17, is now serving 1,000 meals a week to Stanford Health Care workers.
“I do a lot of work at the hospital and I have a lot of colleagues there,” Tabor said. “I knew how hard people were working and I knew they needed a lot of support.”
In a late-night text exchange, Tabor pitched the idea to Cool: Use Cool’s restaurants and facilities to provide food for Stanford Hospital staff, funded by community donations. Without the capacity to cater for Stanford Hospital at scale, Cool has focused on serving her regular menu of restaurant-prepared meals to a different hospital team per day.
“We felt [they] needed something really special: a meal that was complete, and said we’re thinking of you,” Cool said.
Cool, a 40-year veteran of the Bay Area restaurant industry, runs the restaurant Flea Street in Menlo Park as well as Cool Cafe at the Cantor Arts Center on campus. The fundraising from Meals of Gratitude has allowed Cool to rehire five Stanford employees from Cool Cafe, who were laid off when the University shut most of its facilities due to Santa Clara County’s coronavirus restrictions.
“They’ve been here 13 years,” Cool said of her staff. “They made Meals of Gratitude happen. They are warriors.”
Meals of Gratitude’s donations have been received warmly at Stanford Hospital.
“It’s a really meaningful gesture,” said Stephanie Harman, a physician in the palliative care department. “Even just knowing that you have a meal covered while you’re going from patient to patient and conscious of a lot of different things that you’re tracking and juggling … I think that’s a gift.”
“It’s a treat to get a nice meal,” she added. “This is not the usual fare in the hospital.”
As the coronavirus outbreak in the Bay Area continues to grow — Santa Clara County had reported 956 cases as of Wednesday afternoon — Tabor and Cool are continuing fundraising on their website to sustain Meals of Gratitude through the next two months.
“Our goal is to raise $150,000 to be able to do 1000 meals a week through the end of May,” Tabor said. “If we can do more, we will. I want to be able to do it for as long as we can, for as long as there’s a need.”
Tabor also hopes to support other home-grown charity efforts in the area by sharing what the Meals of Gratitude team has learned on the fly in facilitating tax-deductible donations and establishing itself as a fiscal sponsor — a group that can operate as a nonprofit before being recognized by the IRS.
“We’re trying to have a couple of points [on our website] about how a fiscal sponsor works and how you can set up a donation site,” Tabor said. “Almost anybody can set up a fiscal sponsor organization.”
So far, Tabor and Cool are encouraged by the strong response they’ve received from the local community. As of Tuesday, Meals of Gratitude has received over 300 unique donations.
“I think people are just really hungry for wanting to do something when a lot of us feel trapped and stuck,” Tabor said. “This is an opportunity, even though we can’t be connected physically in person, to be connected and support people where we can.”
Contact Daniel Wu at [email protected]