“It’s not an original idea,” Annette Saleh said.
Technically, she is correct. Supporting police, fire and public works personnel during a crisis is not an original idea. Nor is the notion that residents should try to support their local restaurants in any way they can.
But even unoriginal ideas have a way of blossoming into something special in Beverly Hills.
On April 3 she began asking her friends, neighbors and people “whose email addresses I had who don’t even know me” to contribute $25 each to buy meals from local restaurants to help feed the first responders and frontline workers who are keeping Beverly Hills safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Within two weeks, the Beverly Hills Frontline Meals Program raised $30,000 and has fed an average of 125 people a day.
Nationwide, programs have been set up to support healthcare workers, but Saleh noted that few programs were recognizing the continued hard – and dangerous – work of city personnel.
“Our police officers, fire fighters, paramedics, public works personnel, park rangers patrolling the city, code enforcement and inspectors are among the unsung heroes of getting the frontline work done,” said Saleh, a Beverly Hills resident and Human Relations Commissioner. “At the same time, many of the restaurants within our community are struggling to stay afloat during this time.”
In addition to Saleh’s efforts, local restaurants and business owners have launched their own efforts to support the city’s first responders.
Urth Caffé is accepting donations online until April 24 to provide Urth Lunch Boxes to first responders.
And beloved pharmacy and old-fashioned soda fountain shop, Mickey Fine has been making self-funded donations of snacks to first responders.
“Beverly Hills is an incredibly special City. We are so honored to have our business headquartered here and wanted to find a way to give back to those working hard to protect us at this most difficult of times,” said owner Gina Raphael.
“I asked my staff to go through our store and put aside a range of delicious – some healthy and some not – snack foods and drinks to share with the emergency operations team in the city,” she said. “Things are so stressful we thought having some fun snacks for the long days would make the day a bit brighter.”
Residents hope their efforts will communicate their appreciation to first responders while helping to keep their city’s favorite establishments afloat. According to the New York Times, an estimated “75 percent of the independent restaurants that have been closed to protect Americans from the coronavirus won’t make it. The National Restaurant Association estimated … that the entire industry would lose $225 billion in the coming three months and shed five to seven million employees.”
Using the online payment app, Venmo, residents began pouring in donations – many adding a few extra zeroes to the requested $25. The funds allowed beloved local the restaurants to prepare meals that were then provided to the Beverly Hills Police Department, Fire Department and Public Works personnel.
The first participating restaurant was Porta Via, which provided meals for 220 police, fire, public works personnel and city workers.
“The support for our first responders and Porta Via has been overwhelming. I am grateful to our wonderful community,” said owner Peter Garland.
Police Chief Sandra Spagnoli also thanked the community, emphasizing how much the support meant to the officers and frontline responders.
“On behalf of the Police Department, we thank our community for coming together to support public safety during this pandemic. Providing meals is appreciated by our employees, especially night shift when there are limited to no options in the evening to eat,” she said. “The best part of supporting the police department, is that we get to support the local businesses. Through the efforts of our generous Community, I couldn’t think of a better way to define Police and Community Together (PACT).”
Beverly Hills Firefighters Association President Victor Gutierrez said, “The BHFA is extremely grateful for the support from the Beverly Hills community. This is just one more example of why Beverly Hills is a world class community and we are honored to serve those that live, visit and do business in this city.”
“In these unusual times, receiving appreciation from the community reminds us why we are so lucky to serve Beverly Hills,” said Shana Epstein, Director of Public Works.
The Rodeo Drive Committee sponsored meals for all three departments, provided by Via Alloro.
In a statement on behalf of the Drago family, which owns Via Alloro, Il Pastaio and Yojisan, Giacomino Drago said, “We are so thankful for all of the first responders that are supporting the city during this tough time. I hope that we will be able to put this crisis behind us in the near future. I’m looking forward to seeing this beautiful city – and the rest of the world, shine once again.”
“It is our given responsibility to support the public service in this challenging time. Because of the community’s outpouring of generous support, we are able to do so much more,” said Xi’an owner Vicky Mense.
Offer Nissenbaum, Managing Director of The Peninsula Beverly Hills added, “Being a part of the Beverly Hills community for the past 28 years, we are so appreciative of the opportunity to be able to give back to our first responders while keeping as many of our loyal employees working.”
“The response from our community has been extraordinary. It is so heartwarming to witness the kindness and generosity of the residents of Beverly Hills,” Saleh said. “I hope this will help show our appreciation for the first responders and unsung heroes in our city who take care of us especially during this pandemic, and at same time boost the morale of the staff in our local restaurants during these challenging times.”
To participate in the Beverly Hills Frontline Meals Program, Saleh is asking restaurants to make a $25.00 (or more) contribution directly to specific participating restaurants:
- Xi’an Venmo @Vicky-Mense until April 22nd or call Vicky at 310-275-3345
- The Belvedere Venmo @PBH-TLabhart until April 24th or call Rebecca at 310 975 2767
- The Nosh Venmo @Ronald-Magnin or call at Ron at 310-271-3730 or 310-435-2375
- Uppercrust Pizzeria Venmo @ShawnShenefield-UppercrustPizzeria or call Shawn at 310-504-5056 or 480-688-9345.
- Brooklyn Water Bagels Venmo@AmirBoro or call Amir at 818-482-6827