Book Club Comes to Rescue of Restaurants, Medical Workers

(Kathy Enzerink, Photographer)
Jim Phoonpirom, owner of Baan Thai Restaurant, prepares chicken with stir-fry vegetables.

    How do you help local restaurants stay open during the pandemic and feed front-line medical workers at the same time?
    Tracy Ellman, an Orinda resident since 1993, said she was inspired to help, and found a way. During a virtual meeting with her book club on April 1, she presented the idea of establishing a Go Fund Me account where donations will pay local restaurateurs to prepare meals for John Muir Hospital health care workers in Walnut Creek and Concord.
    The members agreed to raise $20,000. They were motivated. Calls were made. Money started rolling in.
    Ellman, along with club members Carolyn Anderson, Amy Bush, Genie Gooderault, Leslie Mariani, Tracie Nelson, Janyce Paoletti and Lori Smudsky, contacted family and friends, who in turn, reached out to their families and friends.
    Within three days, their efforts garnered more than $11,000. By April 11, six days from the first donation, 163 individual donors had collectively given $22,105 – with money still coming in. The goal is now $50,000 with social distancing expected to be in place through mid May.
    “The response has been phenomenal,” said Ellman. When speaking with Orinda restaurant owners about the project, “each and every one, across the board, said they would participate at their cost. They are not making a profit on this.”
    Joe Cho, owner of Café Teatro on Orinda Way, said he is able to provide up to 150 lunches at a time. “This program definitely helps keep our doors open,” he said.
    “At this point our goal is to minimize our losses and put people back to work,” said Michael Karp, owner of the Fourth Bore Tap Room and Grill. “The Go Fund Me projects bring awareness not only for meals, but we are also able to get items that folks are having trouble finding at the grocery store.”
    Lunch and dinner meals, served six days a week, cost $10 to $20 each. The first 225 meals were served April 8 and 10, followed by 750 meals delivered between April 13 to 18 by restaurateurs, book club members, families and friends.
    Ellman said she hopes to expand the program to include another hospital and to invite neighboring food establishments to participate.
    “We will serve meals until the money runs out,” she said.
    “The support provided by our local Orinda community restaurants to John Muir Health during the COVID -19 crisis is overwhelming,” said Patty Haggen, executive director of hospital operations. “Our clinicians and staff want to make sure you know how much we appreciate the kindness, support and acknowledgment of the care we provide.”
    In addition to Café Teatro and Fourth Bore, participating restaurants are: Baan Thai, Eurpoa Hof Brau, Genuine Goodness, Hanazen, Maya Mexican Grill, Petra Café, Reem’s Steaks, Republic of Cake, Saffron, Schezwan, Serika, Shelby’s, Siam Orchid, Sustainable Table and Taverna Pelligrini.
    The Go Fund Me link to donate is

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