At the beginning of March, Jordana Serero, Olivier Del Corpo, Melissa Vitagliano were typical third-year medical students doing their clinical rotations at local hospitals.
Two weeks later, however, those rotations came to an abrupt end, as the province began locking down to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. But that didn’t stop their desire to pitch in any way they could.
“We were on FaceTime about a week after our clinical rotations had ended and we started talking about our colleagues who were on the frontlines fighting the pandemic,” says Serero, who wants to work in internal medicine when she graduates. “These are people we were just working with. So, we asked ourselves, how can we support them through this very scary time?”
“Our way of saying ‘thank you'”
Reaching out to their colleagues, they found that people needed food – specifically prepared meals.
“Because it’s so hectic and chaotic in the hospitals right now, a lot of people just don’t have time to make themselves something to eat. By the time they get home they are so exhausted they don’t even think about cooking,” says Serero.
The trio decided to deliver fresh meals to hospital workers; healthcare professionals, custodians, administrative staff – “anyone who is exposed and working on the frontlines,” she says. “It is our way of saying ‘thank you.’”
With that, MerciMeals MTL was born.
Supporting healthcare workers, local restaurants
Enlisting the help of classmates Anthony Thorburn, Vincent Palmieri, Kaylie Schachter, Alexa Del Corpo, set up a GoFundMe page and began approaching local restaurants. The twist is that restaurants were not asked to donate meals. Instead the MerciMeals MTL team insisted on buying them.
“The reason why we want to raise funds is to be able to purchase meals,” says Serero. “Restaurants have lost an incredible amount of business, so we didn’t want to ask for donations. We want to support healthcare workers while supporting our neighbourhood restaurants as well.”
Sereno says restaurant owners have been “incredibly generous,” adjusting their prices so that MerciMeal MTL get more bang for each buck raised. In all, some 10-12 restaurants are participating in the initiative.
Medical students delivering meals safely
Each day, the team delivers fresh meals to local hospitals workers at either Saint Mary’s, the Jewish General, the Royal Victoria, the Montreal General, or a local CLSC. They are hoping to expand the deliveries to pharmacies next. “We delivering the meals ourselves,” says Serero. “We’re medical students so we want to make sure that the transfer of this food was done in the safest way possible.”
“A lot of people have told us that a simple, good meal helps get them through the day – and it really shows on the faces of the people when we deliver the meals,” she says. “They really appreciate it.”
Community steps up
The Merci Meal MTL GoFundMe page reached its goal of $20,000 within its first three days, and is still going strong. Sereno says the plan is to keep the deliveries coming, as long as the funds are there. In fact, the team is hoping to expand operations in response to requests from healthcare teams around the city.
Serero says the team never expected such a quick and enthusiastic response to the initiative. “I think it illustrates how in times of incredible distress communities come together to support each other.”