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Archives for April 20, 2020

Heroes of COVID-19: Restaurant Essential Worker

The COVID-19 pandemic has left over 22 million Americans jobless. Restaurants, which normally employ over 15 million people, are being forced to close their doors or operate at limited capacity. For those still employed in the service industry, leaving their homes every day to go to work puts them, and their families, at risk of infection. This is our Heroes of COVID-19 series, highlighting essential worker heroes during the pandemic. Learn from Marika Evanger, a restaurant essential worker, about her pandemic experience and the project she co-started to help feed the hospitality trade.

Q&A With a Restaurant Essential Worker

Marika Evanger is the general manager of Zeppelin Station, a food-hall-esque community hub in the RiNo Arts District. Pre-COVID-19, people could meet at Zeppelin Station for a quick bite, a cocktail, or an event before hitting the town. When COVID-19 hit, the venue was forced to close five of its seven restaurants (most of which are family-owned and operated).

With an empty space, a need to connect, and a desire to help out, Marika and a few friends collaborated to create Friends & Family Meal, an initiative to help people in the hospitality trade who lost their jobs. 

Twice a week, out-of-work food and beverage workers can drive up to Zeppelin Station and receive a hot, delicious, and unique meal made by world-renowned chefs, including Chopped champion Dave Hadley. Read on to learn more about the program and what it’s like to be a restaurant essential worker. 

How has COVID-19 impacted Zeppelin Station?

For the most part, all of our food vendors have had to either score back their menu, let go of their staff, or close periodically until we can get out of this, which is obviously a tremendous hit for us and for them. They’re all independent, small business owners. Two of my tenants actually just opened their doors to the public for the first time ever at the beginning of February. So, some of these guys have been working their whole lives to be able to come up with these concepts and dreams only to have it taken out from underneath them pretty immediately. 

How did the idea for Friends & Family Meal spark?

The conversation was actually started with me and my friend Ryan Negley, who is the head of the Whiskey Club in Denver. He is a very adamant member of Friends and Family, which was initially just a Facebook group with about 2,000 members that Kevin Galaba ran. Ryan floated up the idea in a Facebook post very casually right when this all started happening. He wrote, “Family Meal, is anyone down?” For those of you who don’t know, family meal is usually a meal that everybody on staff at a restaurant would enjoy together either before or after their shift. It’s a moment to breathe with each other before or after the rush. It’s usually meant to be really lighthearted and fun for you and your staff. 

When Ryan mentioned that, I immediately reached out. Kevin, Ryan, and I started the conversation literally in a 48-hour time span. We created a concept and were able to get funding together for an 8-week period of meals within less than a week. 

How does the free meals program work? 

As it stands, the funding has made it so that we’re able to create 150 meals every Tuesday and Thursday. If you’re in the industry, you text a hotline number to secure your meal. It’s first-come, first-serve. They just give us basic information: first and last name, the restaurant that they were working for, and an email so we can keep them in contact with us as we continue to develop the program. 

How has the program been received so far?

It’s been pretty incredible. We have families who call every week, they’re the first in line, needing three or four meals at a time. For those people, it’s one day that they don’t have to think about whether or not they’re going to eat something or one day they know that they’re going to be secured a meal. 

We have people like the dishwasher at Denny’s that comes, and we have the head chef of Elways and Safta. It’s a really, really wide spectrum of people who are coming through.

This whole program just brings this sense of … it’s bigger than just feeding people. I think that for the people that show up in their car for the meal as well, it’s a sense of being able to say, “Wow, this is my community. I’m really proud of this.” There’s an emotional wave that happens through this whole period of time where we’re handing out food that comes from the cook, to the volunteer, to our guests, and so on.

Not only are our chefs volunteering their time to make sure that they are getting the food taken care of in advance to feed these 150 people, but we also have people that are coming in to do the food distribution. We have people who are coming in to clean. So it’s really just been humbling to see the amount of people who want to be part of making people feel some sense of normalcy in this.

Why is it important to create a sense of normalcy? 

Giving these chefs, giving the restaurants, that feeling of hospitality that nobody’s getting right now is really important. It’s a customer-forward, people-driven industry that we don’t get to do from home. These people who work in the restaurant industry genuinely depend on human interaction in order for them to feel the seriousness and gratitude of their occupation. They’re putting the same amount of thought into this that they would serve you any day of the week, because it’s meaningful to them.

For you, what does your day-to-day look like?

As long as the food hall’s open, every day I’m contributing to this or another aspect of Zeppelin Station. In regards to Friends and Family, I am there on those Tuesdays and Thursdays. Usually I get there pretty early just to assist my chefs in any way that they would need. 

I’m also the text hotline, which is pretty interesting because I don’t think people realize it’s an actual human behind it. 

I think we probably get 500 texts a week, if not more. My entire Monday and Wednesday are just spent responding to text messages. A lot of industry workers want to talk about how much they appreciate it, or their family situations. Just trying to be there and be a shoulder a little bit has been an unexpected role in this. 

And then the cars just come. It’s a completely contactless operation. You literally drive up, show your ID, we should have you on the list, we check you off, we give you your meal, and you’re on your way. Nobody has to come in. It’s pretty easy. 

Does this work put you in danger? How do you manage that risk? 

It’s interesting because I am one of those people that is constantly mad when I see people outside without masks, when I see people in the grocery store without gloves. I live one block away from Curtis Park and I do my little walk when I can and it never fails that I see people playing football in the park. It drives me crazy. I just don’t feel like people are taking things seriously. But as an essential worker, I do understand that this is going to be something we all kind of adapt to. 

For Zeppelin Station, I feel confident because it’s controlled. I know exactly how many people are working at one time. We have a cleaning crew and are able to maintain standards per COVID-19 mandates. 

In other public places, I get nervous. I do. I’m also an adult asthmatic person, which is like the number one most susceptible person. But, I feel very safe in my workspace. I guess I have to trust that when I go to other workspaces, people are taking the same sense of ownership that I do to the cleanliness and those regulations. 

I’m doing my part by wearing a mask everywhere I go and wearing gloves at the grocery store. It’s just a tricky thing right now. I try to minimize my time in public outside of being at work as much as I can. 

What else do you want people to know?

You know, this initiative is built because we care about our community. That is something that truly drives me with everything that I do in my immediate world. I have always worked one-on-one as much as I can with my direct community of people. 

While my community of people right now is food and beverage, there’s a lot of other food programs in Denver for people that aren’t in this industry. Some food programs in Denver offer food to the eldery or to families in need, or discounted grocery rates and things like that, so I encourage people to look that up. 

We’re not the only people out here doing this, we’re just one of the bigger movements right now because of how incredibly affected the food and beverage industry has become since COVID-19. I just hope that everybody knows that there are other outlets and resources out there too, if you’re not in the food and beverage industry. 

Support This Initiative

If you’d like to help this initiative, consider donating to their GoFundMe or becoming a corporate sponsor. To support Zeppelin Station, order a contactless delivery from their open restaurants: La Rola (urban Columbian cuisine), the Budlong (Nashville hot chicken), or Hamburger Stan (classic burger joint).

Stay Tuned

Check in next week for a Q&A with a teacher in our weekly Heroes of COVID-19 series featuring the essential worker heroes in our COVID-19 present. To keep your mind off the pandemic, check out these three TEDx talks

Saving Lives: Preparation for Natural Disasters

We call events such as hurricanes, floods, wildfires, etc., natural disasters. On the one hand, yes, these events are forces of nature that on some level cannot be prevented. However, according to TEDxMileHigh speaker Sarah Tuneberg, the death and destruction that accompany these events are anything but natural. We need to re-think our preparation for natural disasters—and global pandemics—with the data and technology we already have in order to save lives.

Hurricane Harvey and COVID-19 have an important similarity. The high mortality rates were preventable, even if the actual events were not. 

In 2017, Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston and left 30,000 people stranded and $75 billion in losses. Today, COVID-19 has struck on a global scale. In Colorado alone, there are more than 8,000 confirmed cases, and more than 300 people have died. 

In the aftermath of these events, we tend to look back and say, “We did our best” or “There really was nothing we could do to stop it.” But, did we do our best? There might not have been a way to stop Hurricane Harvey from tearing through Texas, but was there a way to prevent the destruction and loss of life? Was there data available to better prepare us for this pandemic?

We Have Data That Can Save Lives

During her 15 years working in emergency management, Tuneberg helped countless communities recover from 50 different disasters. These experiences inspired her to create her own company, Geospiza, focused on improving human disaster outcomes.

“The key thing I’ve learned is that nearly all of the trauma and tragedy that we call ‘natural disaster’ is not only predictable but preventable. Disasters are 100 percent a result of poor human decision making.” – Sarah Tuneberg

“Incredible advances in mapping, modeling, and data science have given us seven to 10 days notice of a hurricane’s landfall and allow us to predict, often down to the individual house, how much damage we should expect,” explains Tuneberg.

So why, then, do natural disasters continue to devastate cities and cause countless fatalities across the U.S. every year? Tuneberg takes a closer look at Hurricane Harvey and the damage it inflicted on Houston to explain.

Data Only Works If We’re Willing to Use It

Pre-Hurricane Harvey Data

According to Tuneberg, at its peak of expansion, more than 275 people moved to Houston each day. With this massive influx of people, there was a desperate need for more affordable housing. To accommodate, the city paved over more than 30 percent of its wetlands and prairie.

“More than a decade before Harvey, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers report mapped areas that would experience catastrophic flooding during significant rain events,” says Tuneberg. However, with a booming economy and rapidly growing population, developers and city officials disregarded these warnings and built anyway.

“They explicitly chose to develop in areas we knew would flood, and as a result, people died.” – Sarah Tuneberg

Pre-COVID-19 Pandemic Data

The COVID-19 outbreak is not the first pandemic the world has seen. While previous outbreaks haven’t all amounted to the losses like the ones we are seeing now, the U.S. government disregarded lessons and data on pandemics that could have better prepared the U.S. for COVID-19.

In Politico magazine, former Secretary of Health and Human Services Mike Leavitt recounts the ridicule he received when he warned the nation of the then-looming avian flu. “In advance of a pandemic, anything you say sounds alarmist. After a pandemic starts, everything you’ve done is inadequate,” said Leavitt.

Between 2005 and 2017, the Department of Homeland Security worked to devise models that clearly analyzed “what would happen to everything from transportation systems to hospitals if a pandemic hit the United States.” These models were then abandoned when their relevance and value were questioned along with the amount of money allocated to budget them.

Refined Preparation for Natural Disasters

The good news: cities are listening and recognizing the need to re-think their preparation for natural disasters. 

For example, the city of Portland is consulting data to prevent detrimental heat waves from harming residents. Data shows that northeast Portland has significantly less tree coverage than other neighborhoods causing a 20-degree temperature differential. In addition, these same residents are lower income and have higher rates of heart disease and asthma. These factors, Tuneberg explains, increases a person’s risk of death in a heat wave.  

The city of Portland is using this data to inform policy. City agencies and communities have banded together to plant and nurture trees in the area to increase tree coverage and lower the health risks for residents. “It is so simple. Nothing about this is rocket science,” says Tuneberg.

“Here’s the bottom line. Calling hurricanes, floods, wildfires, and extreme heat waves “natural” obfuscates our human responsibility. It lets us off the hook for the death and destruction.” – Sarah Tuneberg

“The fact that anyone dies from a disaster in this country is a political problem,” Tuneberg says. “Because we know exactly how to stop the suffering. We have the data. We just need to use it.”

Learning From COVID-19

In 2018, the Trump administration dismantled the U.S. Pandemic Response Team. Little did they know that one was coming. The negligence of proven data surrounding an outbreak has resulted in harrowingly similar results of recent natural disasters: economic destruction and preventable loss of life.

We cannot let it happen again. We need to heed Tuneberg’s advice and apply it to all potential disasters, natural or not. As we are realizing today, after is too late. We need to better our preparation for natural disasters and other crises now so when disaster strikes we can say with full confidence, we did our best.

Stay Connected

These are difficult times. If you need to take your mind off the pandemic, we recommend these three encouraging TEDx videos. We also have started a new series, Heroes of COVID-19, where each week we highlight an inspiring essential worker hero. Check out our Q&A with a health care worker and a restaurant employee. Stay safe, socially distanced, and informed.

Stay Connected

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