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Syndee Wood & Erica Duran
Erica Duran, left, of Valley Center and Syndee Wood, right, of Encinitas pick up a food delivery on Dec. 4 to donate to the Intensive Care Unit at Scripps Encinitas. Photo by Steve Puterski
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Encinitas woman’s food donations support hospital staff, small businesses

ENCINITAS — A tragedy that led to a unifying act for hospital workers and local businesses has now spread like wildfire.

Syndee Wood, of Encinitas, said the idea naturally came to her while participating in a benefit for the Addiction Awareness Initiative at Pandora’s Pizza in Leucadia. Wood attended the event to support a friend whose son, Alex Nava, a former employee at the pizza shop, passed away last year.

During the event, Pandora’s created a pizza in Nava’s honor and donated the proceeds to the addiction project.

The fundraiser gave Nava’s mom, Lisa, an idea and she decided to donate pizzas on Dec. 13 to the intensive care unit at Scripps Memorial Hospital Encinitas to support those fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. And Wood helped deliver the pies.

“(Lisa) paid for the pizza, I gave them a tip … dropped them off and on a whim, I took a picture and posted it on my social media,” Wood recalled. “I said something to the effect of ‘I’m dropping off the pizza … the ICU is at 150% capacity and for goodness sake, wear a mask.’”

The reaction was swift and immediate as friends reached out asking if they could donate, Wood said. Within 30 minutes of her post, Wood had enough money for another pizza run.

From there, the food drive exploded. The next day, Wood received money for two more days of meals for healthcare workers. Since then, the community service project has now reached more than $10,400.21 in donations and continues to grow. Today, Wood has enough funds to cover the next two weeks and expects the money to keep flowing.

According to Wood, the project is a win for both the healthcare workers and small businesses, bridging an often divided populace.

With each delivery, Wood includes a tip for the restaurant and notes to the workers.

“We prefer them to be family-owned restaurants, beloved ones, in our community that have been struggling,” she added. “I think one of the reasons this is so successful is people know that 100% of it is going to support two entities that need love right now.”

The logistics, though, have been pretty simple as Wood has streamlined her process. She takes donations through her Venmo account, places an order between $200 to $300 from a restaurant, which feeds dozens of workers, and delivers the food.

Since her story has spread, others have reached out to lend a helping hand. Wood has lined up 13 volunteers to take turns with the deliveries, giving her, at times, a much-needed break.

Erica Duran, an English instructor at MiraCosta’s Adult High School, is one of those volunteers and delivered food from Subman’s in Encinitas on Dec. 4. She said one challenge was to find a hospital that would take such donations, but the reaction from residents and workers has been overwhelmingly positive.

Duran was so inspired, she even did her own one-off food donation at a hospital in San Diego.

“It’s hit a lot of our hearts closely,” Duran said. “She was basically doing this one-woman show until last this last week. She hasn’t taken any nights off until this last week. It’s just phenomenal what she’s done.”

However, Wood, an adjunct professor at California State University San Marcos, MiraCosta and Palomar colleges, returns to the classroom, virtually, in three weeks. She will be teaching five classes, although she usually teaches nine per semester.

But while she may have an obstacle, Wood said with her volunteers she should be able to continue the drive for as long as she can. Additionally, she sees this as an opportunity to unite people on both sides of the COVID-19 discussion in regard to supporting small businesses and being safe.

“We have this incredible divide in our country,” Wood said. “What I’ve noticed is this has bridged the gap. I have people on both sides cheering this project on.”

To donate, send funds to @Syndeewood on Venmo.

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