When Kate Griendling offered to bring her friend lunch at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Westwood two weeks ago, she had no idea she would soon be leading an effort to feed hundreds of doctors, nurses and others on the frontlines of the COVID-19 battle.
Griendling had seen the messages her friend, a nurse at the hospital, had posted on social media.
"I just knew she was under a lot of stress and her husband is a doctor at the same hospital," the Redondo Beach woman said Wednesday. "I was like, 'Can I bring you lunch or something?'"
That one meal grew into dozens more as Griendling figured she could raise enough money to buy meals for all the personnel in the COVID-19 units and her friend's floor.
Emails to co-workers and their "South Bay Mommies" Facebook page post did the trick. Donations rolled in and in a couple of days, 70 Greek meals were served.
"I said, 'This is repeatable,'" Griendling said.
Aided by her friend and fellow Redondo Beach mommy, Brooke Kronschnbel, "Fueling the Fearless" was born. Since March 30, the fledgling non-profit has raised more than $8,000, enlisted restaurants and caterers to participate, and delivered nearly 900 meals to doctors, nurses and other personnel working at 10 Southern California hospitals.
Several more hospitals, urgent care centers and medical clinics are on their list for future deliveries, and two more women, Becca Reis and Lindsay Regan, have joined the leadership.
"We see on social media the people in COVID units, the sores around their eyes from the goggles, and we see how tired they are," Kronschnabel said. "I appreciate what they are doing so much...They need the love and support from their community."
On April 3, "Fueling the Fearless" delivered pastries and coffee for 100 employees at Southern California Hospital at Culver City. CEO Michael Klepin said Griendling and her group offered lunches for those working in the emergency room and COVID-19 units, but he suggested they spread the wealth to the entire staff.
"We were just so excited and it is just a great gesture," Klepin said. "We have a lot of staff here. They are on the front lines. They are stressed. They are nervous. Just like all of us they are anxious."
Klepin said it was important for his staff to feel appreciation and to experience "that kind of humanity" as they went about their difficult work. He greeted the delivery and welcomed the donation, which helped the hospital staff to know they are not alone. Knowing the food was purchased with community donations, made it that much more special, Klepin said.
Wednesday morning, Griendling's group delivered 100 meals to Memorial Hospital of Gardena. Aliki Eddy and her staff at Aliki's Greek Taverna near Los Angeles International Airport packaged up spanakopita, falafel, Greek salads, hummus, tzatziki sauce, dolma, rice, pita bread and French fries.
"I sent a lot of food," Eddy said.
Eddy was the first restaurateur to join the Fueling the Fearless effort. Although Eddy has donated plenty of food, Fueling the Fearless is also helping keep many participating restaurants in business. Kronschnabel said they are enlisting small restaurants, not those in large chains, to give them business, a chance to make money from the donations, and to keep their workers employed. The public, she said, is suggesting the restaurants they should contact.
"The goal is to help everyone," Kronschnabel said.
The California Restaurant Association said last week in a letter to California Gov. Gavin Newsom that the state’s more than 90,000 restaurants employ 1.4 million people and that the majority of the establishments are owned and operated by independent proprietors. The association estimated that 20 to 30 percent of restaurants could be lost permanently because of the pandemic.
“It’s very bad,” said Janet, an employee at Eddy’s restaurant. “ I don’t have money for the rent. My husband isn’t working now.”
Fueling the Fearless is willing to pay regular restaurant prices for food, but Griendling and Kronschnabel are ready to accept when a restaurateur wants to donate extras to help with the cause.
"We want to pay," Griendling said. "We want to see them keep their lights on through this."
Eddy said she was thrilled to participate.
"I said, 'What a great idea,'" Eddy said. "I said, “Give me a chance to give back too.’ Right now we don't want to make money. We just want to survive and help others."
Eddy said she is using money she had saved to remodel her kitchen to keep her staff employed. She has also offered to give 50 meals every week for free for the hospital workers.
"I said, 'I want to give so many meals,'" Eddy said. "I just want to help. I want people to be safe. We are one big family right now and we care about each other."
Kronschnabel and Griendling each have babies. They also are pregnant with nearly identical due dates and are working their jobs at home. Kronschnabel works in marketing for Habitat for Humanity. Griendling is supervising producer for Jane Doe Films, a documentary company.
During the day they do their jobs at home and care for their children. In the evening once their babies have gone to sleep, they work at their new charity. They have received 501(c)(3) status as a non-profit organization, but are so new, they established a bank account only Wednesday for donations. Before that, the money arrived through Venmo. A website was hastily put together on Wednesday. Donations can be made at www.fuelingthefearless.org.
As word spreads, larger donations are expected. Already, a famous bachelor made a significant donation of coffee for 200 people, and the ex-wife of a Hollywood movie gunman donated $500.
So far, Fueling the Fearless has primarily served hospitals and medical groups from the Westside to the South Bay, but hospitals in Huntington Park, East Los Angeles and other parts of Los Angeles on the schedule.
Similar groups are beginning operations in Seattle, Washington D.C. and New York.
Kronschnabel said she can envision a new career. Griendling likes her job, but hopes to do more for first responders and grocery store workers who need personal protective gear.
"It's such an amazing experience," Griendling said. "I think I felt really helpless not doing anything. This is a way you are able to feel you can contribute to a solution."