DEL MAR – Restaurants in North County and beyond are hurting due to the spread of COVID-19, many relying solely on take-out service to keep business going amidst California’s shelter in place order.
Jen Grove, executive director of Del Mar Village Association (DMVA), has found a creative way to both support restaurants in Del Mar, and lend a hand to healthcare workers “on the frontlines” of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I know (the restaurants) are all struggling,” Grove said. “They’re my friends, they’re people I’ve worked with every day for many years…I want to keep them vital through this.”
Called Fuel the Frontline San Diego, the initiative embraces the proverbial two-birds-with-one-stone by purchasing meals from local restaurants suffering from state-mandated closures, and delivering the fresh food to nurses and doctors at San Diego hospitals.
Inspired by similar “Fuel the Frontline” initiatives throughout the country, Del Mar Village Association has jumpstarted the first such effort in San Diego County.
Since April 6, the organization has been delivering dozens of meals daily to area hospitals, including UCSD Hillcrest, Scripps Green, Scripps Carmel Valley Hospital and more.
Grove is coordinating the initiative along with her daughter and DMVA’s social media manager, Tyler Grove, and her husband, Doug Grove, a local physician at Scripps Carmel Valley. Quarantined together, the team launched the initiative’s GoFundMe page on March 31, after which the concept quickly gained traction.
Two weeks after its launch, the initiative had raised over $50,000 – including over $25,000 in donations, and a $25,000 match offered by Del Mar residents Richard and Carol Hertzberg. As of Easter, they will be able to provide over 3,000 meals over the next three weeks.
The Del Mar Village Association is a local nonprofit that promotes tourism and hosts community events in Del Mar, often creating venues for local restaurants to thrive. In a sense, the organization is adapting to continue doing what it has always done – support area businesses.
Randy Gruber, a chef and restauranteur who owns both Americana and Elixir in the heart of Del Mar, said he is “very proud and honored” to be among the 11 businesses participating in the initiative.
Since California restaurants were ordered to halt their sit-down dining services in March, Gruber has been working in the kitchen seven days a week with just one other employee, for pick-up service only. The kitchen has continued to offer a limited version of Americana’s menu through Elixir’s grab-and-go-style storefront. He said the bills are “starting to catch up with (him),” and initiatives like Fuel the Frontline “help a lot.”
Gruber said he was “excited” to contribute to the program, especially because his wife is an anesthesiologist accustomed to working in hospitals.
“I feel like I’m contributing and helping,” he said, the day after the restaurant supplied its first delivery. “It’s a win-win for everybody, for the doctors, restaurants, for the people that are donating…I felt really good yesterday. I’d love to do it every day.”
The initiative also delivers meals from Viewpoint Brewing, Co., Board & Brew, Beeside Balcony and En Fuego Cantina & Grill – to name a few. Restaurants interested in participating can sign up on the initiative’s website.
Gruber said he is taking all precautions with safety, prepping and cleaning the food carefully and wearing gloves and a mask.
There has been some concern locally with how food delivery could stand to put healthcare workers at risk, but Grove asserts that the process involves “no social interaction.” Protected restaurant workers put the well-packaged, multi-bagged food in the back of a delivery car, and hospital workers remove the food from the trunk of the car when it arrives.
With the initiative having “gone viral,” what was initially a small idea is now taking hold – and the Groves are working to coordinate a larger effort with more volunteers, more restaurants, and more hospitals.
“We thought this was going to be just a small effort and it’s really much larger,” she said, adding that restaurants have offered to help with food deliveries.
Grove said she has been heartened by the support, and by the response of restaurants and donors.
“Everyone’s looking for a way to help others…this is a way to reach out and say, I care, and I want to make sure I support those people that are caring for others,” Grove said.
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