Amy Baker wheeled a cart loaded with 40 white bags through the lobby of Long Beach Memorial Hospital. She usually takes the elevator up to the sixth floor, where she’s worked as a medical social worker for over 30 years, but on this particular Monday afternoon, she was making a detour to the fourth floor.
“Special delivery!” she exclaimed, as she wheeled in the three-tiered cart full of sandwiches, cookies and drinks into the hospital’s COVID ward. Baker was helping to facilitate a goodwill gesture from 14 blocks up the road, bringing lunches from Bixby’s Brooklyn Deli to healthcare workers braving the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic.
The delivery was orchestrated by Baker and her brother, Blair Cohn, who runs the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association (BKBIA). During the pandemic, Cohn has organized flash sales for businesses in order to drum up sales for restaurants, shops, and other businesses in the neighborhood.
“We take our redevelopment money that we’ve been using for First Fridays and divert it into this business support and retention,” explained Cohn, who has put together more than 30 flash events in Bixby Knolls since the beginning of the shutdown in March. “We asked the deli a number of times about a flash event, but they couldn’t quite handle it since the owner is doing the cooking, and they only have one person taking orders. So I said, ‘Why don’t we reverse it and take it to them, and do a good deed at the same time.’”
That led to the BKBIA purchasing 40 lunches of pastrami, corned beef and turkey sandwiches to be delivered to the doctors, nurses, and staff at Memorial. Cohn drove the orders to the hospital and dropped them with Baker who, as a hospital employee, was able to conduct the delivery. Baker admits that it has been a difficult few months at the hospital and she was happy to help bring some positivity to Memorial’s frontline workers.
“For me, it’s exhausting and exhilarating,” said Baker of what it’s like working at a hospital in the midst of a pandemic. “I’m in awe of the physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists, and everyone who is caring for our COVID patients. This isn’t an assignment most health care workers signed up for and I know it takes its toll. At the beginning, it was frightening to go to work. It felt risky and tense and sometimes I felt a sense of dread. The whole environment felt so different: we have our temperature taken upon entry to the building, the lobby is virtually empty and so quiet, everyone wears a mask of course, and there is a lot of uncertainty.”
In addition to providing free meals to healthcare workers, there is also a meaningful financial benefit for the deli. According to Thaworn Anderson, owner and cook at Bixby’s Brooklyn Deli, this helped strengthen the ties between the community and the deli.
“We’ve been wanting to do something for the community. They risk their lives for us and we wanted to do something to honor them,” said Anderson. “The association helps us to recover our costs, and we chip in a little bit to do things together. We want to thank those people who risk their lives for us. So this is our way of showing our appreciation. I think it’s all good because they taste my food, and that way they might come back.”
Anderson said that Memorial employees have been some of her most loyal customers for years, and that she continues to get takeout orders from doctors and nurses working there. She’s even gotten some visits from patients who’ve been referred to the deli following a surgery or other hospital visit.
The delivery also came at an opportune time, according to Baker. With the pandemic continuing into the better part of a year, the wave of support provided to medical staff has subsided.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, it seemed as if food and treats were delivered almost daily to the medical center–we all benefited from people’s kindness and generosity,” she explained. “The deliveries seem to have subsided, so it seemed like the perfect time for a surprise.”
Baker and Cohn said they’re planning for future deliveries as well, including a meal delivery to the ICU at Memorial. So far, the deliveries and flash sales have been a win-win for businesses and community members, creating excitement and engagement around locally-owned businesses.
“We’re supporting the businesses with promotion and revenue, but behind all of this we get community engagement,” Cohn explained. “So when we ask people to support their businesses, they’re responding, and we’re seeing a great deal of pride.
“The deli wins because they get the money. The frontline workers are happy they get treated, and for us, it’s ‘mission accomplished’ because we really supported our membership.”
Photo courtesy Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association