SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) – It’s a big idea born out of something as simple as a pizza party.
In March of 2020, nurse Sydney Gressel was starting to see the ramp-up of COVID response at her job in the pediatric ER at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in San Francisco.
But her job onsite had yet to experience the overload of cases that other hospitals were.
“I was feeling guilty for being in California when things are going off in New York first and being in pediatrics, we’re not seeing the same kind of mortality and severe infections in young people and I really wanted to be able to do more and give more,” Gressel said.
Then one night, she suggested that friends – also wanting to help – buy pizzas for her team.
“My staff were just blown away that strangers I have never met before, I would send good pizzas also to our department. It was just such a nice morale boost to feel appreciated from the community. And it was at the time that shelter-in-place orders had just started to kick in, and it had gotten really difficult to source food on a break. All of a sudden, the restaurants that were all walking distance from the hospital were closed, grocery store lines were all around the block kind of thing,” she said.
The necessity of getting overworked medical workers fueled up fueled the idea behind Frontline Foods.
Its dual purpose tackles another pandemic-caused problem.
They raise money to hire restaurants struggling under shelter-in-place rules, which gives them much-needed businesses to make the meals that both feed and lift spirits of the people putting themselves at risk as they battle against an invisible enemy.
The nonprofit has since moved beyond hospitals.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed was seen recently helping out at a Frontline Foods delivery to firefighters.
“We’ve served meals to firefighters, to EMS, we have served low-income housing collectives we work for, the veterans, so kind of expanding our definition… the idea caught on over the course of this last year, basically we’ve raised over $10 million, and we have served thousands of meals in hospitals and communities, we have 50-some chapters set up throughout the country run by this army of volunteers,” she said.
The reigns of the now-national nonprofit have been handed over to another relief agency, World Central Kitchen.
One of Gressel’s colleagues at the hospital says the mother of two young girls continues to inspire others with her bravery and strength.
This summer she had both breasts and fallopian tubes removed preventatively after being diagnosed with the breast cancer gene.
Despite a whirlwind year, Gressel continues to be enthusiastic about nursing.
“Recognizing that people who I’m encountering that day are going to experience potentially life-threatening experience and if I can bring some calm, some love, some reassurance, some information and be with a person in their experience right in front of me, I can see it make a difference in the world.”
Gressel continues making differences both big and small, helping change the world for the better.