A few weeks ago, Tama-Rose Bazzle was reading about a community that was fundraising to feed essential workers during the pandemic, and the article made her wonder if there were similar efforts taking place in South Jersey.
Bazzle texted her friend Allison Gollin to see if she’d heard of a similar effort, but neither could find one. So the pair decided to do their own fundraising. That very same night, they created Essential Eats to donate food to hospitals and other essential organizations using local restaurants and eateries.
Bazzle, a Marlton resident, and Gollin, from Cherry Hill, started their efforts by sending out about 70 emails to friends and family; within a day, they raised $1,000. Their mutual friend Brett Breslow was battling COVID-19 at Cooper University Hospital, so the friends reached out to his family to get involved and help connect them with staff at Cooper.
From there, things were taking off, so they decided to set up GoFundMe and Facebook pages. The pair got their children involved in the fundraising efforts and organized a virtual cabaret performance on Zoom that raised $500. To date, Bazzle and Gollin have fundraised more than $3,000.
Bazzle said Essential Eats has given the friends a sense of purpose during the pandemic’s mandated social distancing.
“We just want to give back and it’s our way of being able to say thank you while following all the guidelines and the rules,” Bazzle said.
In an effort to support small businesses, the pair made a joint decision to use local eateries. First they reached out to Short Hills Deli in Cherry Hill, where the owners and staff have been nothing short of accommodating.
Gollin said hospitals currently operate under strict donation rules, which means all food and utensils must be individually wrapped. Delivery people must meet a specific handler from the hospital to ensure the food is brought in according to the current safety guidelines. Short Hills not only lowered the cost per meal and threw in extra food, it also special ordered individually wrapped utensils and other items.
Gollin and Bazzle have received gratitude from the hospital staff.
The pair now are expanding their efforts to other area hospitals and essential organizations. In the past week, the group partnered with Ragazzi Restaurant in Marlton to feed local police, donating food to Marlton, Mount Laurel, Cherry Hill, Medford and Moorestown officers.
The pair have also reached out to Virtua Health System and Jefferson Health to coordinate future drops. There’s no timeline on when they’ll stop, and Bazzle said as of now, the goal is to keep going until the money runs out.
“Hopefully it will last and will go throughout the entire pandemic; we just want to give as long as we’re able,” Bazzle said.
Gollin said so many of their friends who are essential workers are also juggling homeschooling and the care of their families. If Essential Eats can take one thing off their plates by not having to stress about bringing food to work that day, she added, then it feels like they’re making a difference.
“This just feels to me like we are able to give something in this time of need,” Gollin added. “It’s the nourishment part, but it’s nourishing for the soul to be able to do something for people who are trying so hard to make all of our lives better.”
To learn more about Essential Eats, visit them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Essential-Eats-100964104908571/. To donate, visit https://www.gofundme.com/f/essential-eats.