Editor’s note: This is the first installment in an occasional series called Maine Acts of Kindness, highlighting volunteer and philanthropic efforts during the pandemic.

Maine Medical Center nurse Mary Kate O’Sullivan thanks Birch Shambaugh, co-owner of Woodford Food & Beverage, as he drops off 10 burgers for hospital workers Wednesday evening.  Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

The food, a box of a dozen cheeseburgers from Woodford Food & Beverage in Portland, arrived at about 9 p.m. Wednesday night at Maine Medical Center, bound for the nursing unit P3CD.

A small token of appreciation, said Birch Shambaugh, the restaurant’s owner, for the work the nurses and doctors are doing during the coronavirus pandemic.

For the nurses, the burgers meant more than a meal.

“Right now it’s been a difficult time in health care, it’s very stressful,” said Rhonda DiPhilippo, a nursing director at Maine Med who oversees the unit. “The staff has rallied and stepped up to do what is expected of them. And it means a lot that the community appreciates all that they’re doing and recognizes the sacrifices they’re making.”

The delivery was part of an initiative called Feeding the Frontline, a national grassroots effort started by Penguin Pizza in Boston. Participating restaurants deliver free meals to health care workers, first responders and others at the front line of battling the pandemic, along with those at high risk during virus outbreak.

The program is funded by donors who purchase meal packages from the restaurants, which cook and deliver the food. It is designed to help not only workers at the front lines – but the restaurants themselves. Many have lost significant revenue after having to close their dining rooms.

Dan Piltch bought two $100 cheeseburger packages from Woodford Woodford Food & Beverage. He said, “This is a little thing we can do and feel like we’ve reached out and helped someone.”

“It helps a business in times of great uncertainty, so you’re not thinking about every penny,” said Jesse Bania, the general manager at Solo Italiano in Portland. “And hopefully it allows you to continue to produce what your livelihood is built on.”

Allie Edmund, the general manager at Luke’s Lobster in Portland, said, “Oddly, we get more revenue a day in donations than in actual orders. It’s been a positive experience so far.”

Woodford Food & Beverage on Forest Avenue was the first Portland restaurant to join the initiative. It offers a package including five cheeseburgers for $100. Luke’s Lobster offers two Do-It-Yourself lobster roll kits for $30. Solo Italiano offers five lasagna dishes for $100.

Dan Piltch, who lives in Freeport and works as a technology consultant and investor for Broad Sound Partners in Portland, said donating to this cause was an easy decision.

“You kind of feel powerless when you’re stuck at home and can’t help,” said Piltch, who bought two cheeseburger packages from Woodford F&B. “This is a little thing we can do and feel like we’ve reached out and helped someone. It helps out Birch and the folks at the restaurant, giving them a little revenue when they’re facing a precipitous drop, and it puts a smile on people who are on the front line and shows we appreciate them.”

“It’s kind of a potent idea,” said Shambaugh, who made deliveries to Preble Street Resource Center, a local firehouse and Mercy Hospital on Thursday afternoon. “We have always tried to effect positive change in our community. We thought about it a bit, what would be most meaningful and useful. At its core, this is potentially a powerful way for people who feel an affinity for a restaurant, or Portland itself, to feel like they could bring a little dash of good in somebody’s day they don’t know.”

Woodford F&B became involved because Shambaugh’s wife, Fayth Preyer, is friends with someone who knew the owner of Penguin Pizza. They talked about what they could do and his wife’s friend designed a website that provided guidelines for restaurants to follow.

Woodford took to social media to announce its participation and soon loyal customers were signing up as donors. They average about 40 cheeseburgers a day and have delivered 200 in the past week.

“If we can help feed the people who are making a difference and are forced, essentially, to deal with what’s happening face-to-face, then I’m glad to do it,” said Courtney Loreg, the executive chef at Woodford.

Chef Torr Kelso and executive chef Courtney Loreg put toppings on burgers at Portland’s Woodford Food & Beverage on Thursday. The burgers were delivered to volunteers and staff at the Preble Street Resource Center. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Asked how long the restaurant will continue to deliver the food, Shambaugh said, “We’re going to continue doing what little we can for as long as we can.”

Luke’s Lobster has delivered 60 kits, or 120 lobster rolls, to hospitals throughout southern Maine, including Mercy and Southern Maine Health Care in Biddeford, according to Edmund. On Thursday, they made a delivery to Maine Med.

Orders can be placed over the phone or via social media, on Facebook or Instagram. That’s where Peter Miller, a lobsterman in Tenants Harbor, discovered Luke’s involvement. Luke’s purchases its lobsters from the Tenants Harbor Fisherman’s Co-op.

“People on the front lines doing their job are great and any help I can give I’m willing to do it,” said Miller, who purchased two kits. “I hope I never need them. But we are asking an awful lot of those people and they step into the front line every day.

“If they get a lobster roll for doing what they do, that’s a small price to pay.”

Executive Chef Courtney Loreg adds french fries to a take-out box at Woodford Food & Beverage in Portland on Thursday. The burgers and fries were delivered to volunteers and staff at Preble Street as part of Feeding the Frontline, a national grassroots initiative. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Edmund said the Luke’s Lobster shacks in Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., are also participating. She said in Portland, they keep a spread sheet to show where the deliveries have gone, to make sure everyone gets a share.

“We truly appreciate everything they’re doing,” Edmund said. “They’re getting hit hard, they’re the ones putting their health at risk.”

Solo Italiano just joined Feeding the Frontline in the last week. And so far donors have responded. According to Bania, the general manager, the restaurant has received donations for 110 lasagna meals. He delivered 54 meals to Maine Medical Center Thursday afternoon.

The revenue received by Solo Italiano is being put into an account for the workers who were laid off when dining rooms were closed. The restaurant employed about 38 people, Bania said. Only six remain.

Bania said he hoped to deliver meals to staff at homeless shelters as well. “They have a lot of volunteers who are feeding others,” he said. “We need, in turn, to feed those who are helping others.”

Noting that government stimulus checks have been passed by Congress, Bania said, “If people want to do good and support local businesses and feed people taking care of others, there’s no better way to spend $100 of those checks.”

Birch Shambaugh, owner of Woodford Food & Beverage in Portland, puts take-out boxes of burgers and fries into a bag at the restaurant Thursday. In addition to delivering take-out orders to customers, the restaurant is donating food to workers on the front line of the coronavirus outbreak. Shambaugh said, “We have always tried to affect positive change in our community.”  Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

DiPhilippo, the nursing supervisor at Maine Med, said the food may seem to be a small token of appreciation, but it goes a long way for the staff.

“We love to get the food,” she said. “They enjoy sitting down and getting the break they need. This lets them take a minute to have something to eat and drink. It also makes them know people thought about them, thought enough about them working at the hospital at night to take the time and prepare the food.

“It’s nice to know the community takes care of the staff. It’s like paying it forward. Everyone wants to feel appreciated for what they do.”

Are there folks in your community going out of their way to help others during the virus outbreak? If so, please send details about their efforts to [email protected]


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