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Australian restaurants cook meals for health workers

Photo: Restaurants cook meals for health workers
One woman has set up a GoFundMe page to help supply exhausted NSW health workers on the COVID-19 front line with meals from restaurants.

Australian restaurants struggling to stay afloat during the coronavirus pandemic are signing up to provide free meals for exhausted health workers on the front line.

The service has emerged as COVID-19 shuts down the nation and the economy, with thousands of restaurants forced to close their doors to patrons.

Food blogger Nagi Maehashi set up "Shout a meal for healthcare heroes" in early April with the aim of raising $210,000 to fund meals by qualified chefs and other professional food production companies, such as bakeries and catering companies.
The goal is, "to provide delicious, nourishing food to our frontline healthcare workers in Sydney, and support local businesses struggling to stay afloat", Ms Maehashi said.

"With their focus on patients and the long hours they're working, too many healthcare workers are literally too exhausted to cook, and those who try are faced with empty supermarket shelves by the time their shift finishes," she said on her GoFundMe page.

"Meals are pre-approved by hospitals for food safety and handling requirements."

A week after setting up the service, donors had contributed almost $32,000, with the first batch of meals and snacks sent to workers at Sydney hospitals such as Westmead, RPA and Canterbury.

The free meals and snacks will be on offer to all Sydney hospitals with COVID-19 clinics and wards, on an as-available basis and within each hospitals' constraints and policies.

Speaking from her home on the northern beaches, the RecipeTinEats blogger said her fundraiser emerged as hospitals became overwhelmed by people offering home-cooked meals they just couldn't accept because of health regulations.

"I was crying every night after talking to doctors and nurses on the front line who had to move out of their homes to protect their families and were surviving on fast foods and tins of soup," she said.

"I was talking to hospitals who didn't want to hurt people's feelings by turning away food, so I read up and looked at what was happening around the world and came up with this idea."

Among the restaurants and producers already on board are Baptiste and Wilson, and Bowan Island Bakery, while renowned chef Guillaume Brahimi is supplying meals.

Others, including the Prince of York in Sydney's CBD and other eateries in Balmain, are also going through the rigorous health controls to ensure safety in supply.

"All businesses providing the meals or any other food will be required to meet mandatory Australian food safety standards (HACCP and Food Safety Supervisors) as well the higher sanitisation standards plus social distancing requirements required in today's COVID-19 environment'" Ms Maehashi said.

"In addition, the acceptance of food is being vetted by appropriate authorities at each hospital, including an approval process for each food provider."

While she admits the $210,000 goal is "ambitious" she said "it's still a goal".

Ms Maehashi says her next move is to approach companies for further support, as she aims to increase the number of meals from 150 this week to 500 a day.

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