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Journalist fires up new initiative to feed those on the virus front lines

By Shiryn Ghermezian

(JNS) A new project that launched this week focuses on providing kosher meals to Jewish healthcare workers on the front lines fighting the coronavirus pandemic at hospitals around the United States while also helping Jewish restaurants stay afloat during the current government-mandated lockdowns.

Kosher19, a play on the name of the virus, COVID-19, organizes for food to be delivered to kosher-observant healthcare workers who are busy around the clock with coronavirus patients. The project is funded through donations and depends on medical professionals to fill out a “food request form” on the initiative’s website. The form asks healthcare workers to specify which hospital they are affiliated with, how many people need kosher food at their medical center and the best time to do a delivery.

Kosher19 organizers then place an order with one of the 20 different kosher restaurants they partnered with, and the restaurants deliver the meals to the hospitals. Kosher19 has arranged food drop-offs at urgent care and rehabilitation centers as well.

The initiative was started by Washington, D.C.-based Jewish journalist Bethany Mandel, 33, on Sunday, March 29, and it has already raised around $50,000 through Venmo and its GoFundMe page, she told JNS.

While she was speaking to JNS on Tuesday, March 31, someone sent in $3,600 to the project.

Through Kosher19, food has been delivered to medical centers in Florida, Louisiana, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Georgia, among other states highly affected by the coronavirus. As of Wednesday, 3,942 medical workers have been served kosher food, and 89 medical centers have received it.

Healthcare professionals at New York-Presbyterian Hospital enjoy kosher pizza delivered by Kosher19. (Credit: Courtesy)

In one case, 45 pies of kosher pizza were delivered to Brookdale University Hospital and Medical Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. Equal numbers were dropped off at Howard University Hospital in Washington, D.C., and Lincoln Medical Center in Bronx, N.Y. Mandel estimates that through Kosher19, a whopping 6,000 slices of kosher pizza have already been delivered to hospitals.

“We did this for two reasons,” said Mandel, a columnist for The Forward and an editor of the website Ricochet. “One is to obviously feed healthcare workers, but equally important is keeping our kosher businesses in business. We sort of had some challenges finding places that are still open. Because every day, it’s like ‘Oh, here’s another one that closed.’ So, we’re also just trying to make sure these businesses have enough business to keep their doors open, especially right before Passover, when they have to close” for the eight-day holiday.

Mandel was collecting donations to supply kosher food to Jewish healthcare workers even before officially launching Kosher19. She told JNS that she previously raised $4,000 she then added to house accounts for workers of the Hatzalah emergency service at four different kosher restaurants in Brooklyn.

“I think it sends a message to all these healthcare workers that the Jewish community stands behind them, and we do not care if they’re Jewish or not, we want to feed you … and it’s a message that I want them to receive: that the Jewish community has been really, really hit by this epidemic … and it doesn’t matter who’s treating us, we appreciate them. Whether they’re Jewish or not. I wanted to feed every doctor because all these doctors are caring for Jewish patients, especially in the New York area.”

‘Support those who are saving lives’

Mandel started Kosher19 by herself, but as the donations quickly flooded in, she brought on three other people to help organize the funds and food, as well as a volunteer coordinator.

Dani Klein, 37, a New York food blogger and social-media marketing strategist for the media agency MediaCom, is one of the initiative’s organizers, and his wife, Arielle, is involved in some of the kosher-food purchasing and distribution.

Klein has a website called YeahThatsKosher.com, which publishes kosher-food-related content and news.

“There’s little I can do to save lives in the current situation, but I can support those who are saving lives,” he said. “The most common request from frontline medical workers has been food, and with a large amount of kosher observant doctors, nurses and other essential medical staff, we wanted to make sure they could eat as well. Additionally, we have the added benefit of financially supporting small kosher businesses during a difficult economic time.”

Main Photo: Pies of kosher pizza delivered to Howard University Hospital in Washington, D.C. (Credit: Courtesy)

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