Battle metaphors for the fight against coronavirus make sense when health care workers tell their stories of long hospital shifts treating a deadly, evasive disease.

These professionals are on the “front line” of the COVID-19 battle, working long shifts in overcrowded emergency rooms and intensive care units (ICU), with many isolating in hotel rooms after their shifts to protect family and friends.

Mahera Jeevanjee, a physical therapist in the Neuro ICU at Methodist Hospital, found a way to help her co-workers get through their strenuous days, while also supporting locally-owned businesses struggling to survive the pandemic shutdown.

Jeevanjee started the Feed the Frontline SATX campaign March 30 by arranging a lunch delivery from Bakery Lorraine for 25 workers, using her own money from a canceled vacation to France. Those funds lasted about a week, buying lunches from a variety of restaurants, when friends convinced her to start a GoFundMe campaign. Those close friends have also helped her facilitate the idea by arranging orders and delivery.

Initially, Jeevanjee’s goal was to provide a morale boost to her beleaguered colleagues, who – unable to leave their units once they clock in – were subsisting mostly on pizza and cookies, along with cold sandwiches provide by the hospital. Hot, prepared meals would provide additional nutrition.

Marco Gonzalez, Nurse Director for the ICU, said, “nutrition is an important key to reduce that mental fatigue” from 12-hour shifts with only one 30-minute break, “when you get ‘hangry’ and your train of thought just starts to kind of break.”

Three weeks into her effort, she has helped feed emergency room workers and employees of the hospital’s two COVID-19 intensive care units more than 800 meals, currently averaging 60 per day. Restaurants she’s placed orders with include Hot Joy, Barbaro, The Cookhouse, Tenko Ramen, Thai Taste, Chester’s Hamburgers, Zito’s Deli, and Sandwich de Paris. All are paid for the meal orders, Jeevanjee said, in part to help keep employees on the payroll.

“A primary goal is to make sure that [the money] goes back into that really strained industry where people are completely out of work or not making enough,” she said.

A weekend donation of 100 meals from Pasha Mediterranean Cuisine enabled her to also feed the environmental services crew, who Jeevanjee called “the unsung heroes of the front lines,” cleaning and disinfecting patient rooms.

Owner Kamran Hajivandi said each Sunday his restaurant does its part by offering hundreds of free meals to first responders, through deliveries and drive-through pickup at the restaurant. Feed the Frontlines SATX was a natural fit for his efforts, he said.

“We feel like we need to help our [front-line workers] here,” Hajivandi said. “They’re heroes to us. They’re putting their life [on the line] for us, our kids, our community, and we feel like we need to appreciate it somehow.” So far, Pasha has donated 1,600 meals and plans to continue at least through May 10.

Spice of Life Catering also reached out to Jeevanjee to donate specially prepared meals, as a way to “pay it forward” to health care workers, said Sales Director Jessica Silvaggio Saldivar. The special events sector has “taken quite a hit,” Saldivar said. “We’re going to be the last people to get back to normal. Large gatherings are our livelihood, but we just can’t have that right now, so we’re trying to come up with inventive ways to give back to the community.”

An unrelated effort by Page Barteau Catering is also helping to feed Methodist Hospital workers. The company did regular business with Methodist Health System before the pandemic, and wanted to give something back, said catering manager Britany Lopez. “We’re just trying to think of ways to be creative. How can we help others, and still stimulate business?”

Donations are collected to pay for the packaged meals, delivered each Wednesday for the foreseeable future, she said. Anyone interested can donate any amount through their Facebook page, with all funds going toward the continuing effort.

Catering Director Britany Lopez holds up a sign with lunch choices created by Page Barteau Catering during the coronavirus pandemic. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

At Spice of Life, Saldivar was aware that Jeevanjee’s Feed the Frontlines SATX effort is running out of money, and donated one day’s meals so that another business could benefit from the following day’s order, she said.

Jeevanjee has raised just over $4,000 so far for her GoFundMe campaign, seeking a total of $15,000 to continue feeding co-workers through May, when projections show a reduction in COVID-19 cases.

Anyone can help, she said, including the unemployed. “For people who are not working … help me spread the word. … For people who are still employed and getting a paycheck, whatever you donate helps, and for people with a deeper pocket,” any amount helps, she said.

Should she surpass the $15,000 goal, she said she’d expand to get meals to other hospitals in the Medical Center. Any leftover funds from the campaign, should the pandemic subside, will be donated to the San Antonio Food Bank, Jeevanjee said.

Senior Reporter Nicholas Frank moved from Milwaukee to San Antonio following a 2017 Artpace residency. Prior to that he taught college fine arts, curated a university contemporary art program, toured with...