For nearly a week, it felt like the world had been shut down.
The NBA put its season on hold. Schools were closing. Businesses deemed non-essential had to close their doors.
Washington Township resident Jaime Chirico and her mother-in-law, Maria Mangiamele, were texting each other about the coronavirus pandemic’s fallout. Their conversation quickly turned into a brainstorming session.
They tried to answer a question many of us have had in the last three weeks: How can we help?
Jamie’s husband, John, and his brother, Brandon Chirico, joined the text string and before long the four found the answer. They created Food4Staff, an organization that would become the money-raising middleman between two groups in need.
With a simple Facebook post on the night of March 19, Food4Staff was born with the goal of bringing together local restaurants and first responders through food deliveries. To say Food4Staff was an instant success would be an understatement.
The group had managed to feed 1,200 people by the end of the fourth day of operation. On March 24, Food4Staff had seven orders going out to 350 people; a day later, it had 11 deliveries scheduled.
Through five days, it had organized food deliveries to 27 different hospitals, emergency center services, testing sites and other first responder sites, with work in place to begin expanding the operation into northern New Jersey, Philadelphia and the surrounding Pennsylvania suburbs, too.
“I was astounded, completely,” John Chirico said. “We posted the group on Facebook and shared it with like 20 friends and it just kind of took off from there.”
Ironically, Food4Staff spread like what it was helping to fight — a virus. The 20 people Chirico’s family shared the group with shared it onto their own Facebook pages, and then their friends shared the group, and so on.
Someone created a hashtag for the group, #MakingGivingContagious, and Food4Staff became bigger than anyone had anticipated.
“We’ve just had an outpouring of support, which has been the blessing and godsend in all of this,” Chirico said. “We’re helping the small businesses and they’re very appreciative of it, but being able to give the frontline workers a little bit of a break so they don’t have to worry about feeding themselves with working long hours, to pop up into the break room and grab a sandwich, that’s really what this whole thing is all about.”
Deptford Township’s EMS (Emergency Medical Services) was treated to Scarpinato’s of Turnersville. The night staff at Jefferson Health in Stratford got a delivery of Antonino’s from Blackwood. The staff at Virtua Voorhees’ labor and delivery department dined on Passariello’s. And on and on.
“All we’re doing is making phone calls,” said Christy DiBernardo, a member of Chirico’s eight-to-12 person Food4Staff committee who works in the radiology department at Jefferson Health in Stratford.
“We make phone calls to make it happen,” DiBernardo continued, “and it’s so easy to make someone’s day a little bit nicer.”
Chirico and his staff of about 10 have been overwhelmed, in a good way. The donations began coming through Venmo and PayPal but with the business growing exponentially, Food4Staff became official — they got an employee identification number last Tuesday — by the end of their third business day of operation.
“Everything just exploded,” Chirico said. “We weren’t expecting this, we expected to have maybe a few hundred dollars to spend at local establishments and have a couple hundred go in, a couple hundred go out, but we’re getting thousands and we’re trying to keep up with all of the orders.”
Chirico is a small business owner himself; he runs a construction company that specializes in property damage restoration and remodeling. He’s also currently at home with his wife and four children (ages 6 months to 13).
Needless to say, he and his wife are busy with work and home life in addition to Food4Staff.
When the popularity of the group quickly grew and the demands multiplied by the day, the Chiricos created an application off Trello in order to streamline the system for everyone involved.
Less than a week in, the work was busy but the team was organized and productive. And the payoff is seeing the smiles when the appreciative first responders send them photos.
“John’s mom, she gets tears in her eyes everytime she sees the pictures,” said DiBernardo, who delivered food to another wing, for ICU and maintenance staff, last Monday at Jefferson. “I’m walking up the hallway with this pizza and hoagie tray and they’re all looking with their heads turned like, what is she doing? They were shocked and just so excited to get chosen to get the food.”
The moral of Food4Staff’s story: if you’re sitting at home and feeling helpless, you can make a difference if you can combine generosity, organization and love.