Central Baltimore Partnership + Local Restaurants = Square Meals

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One local organization has come up with a “full-filling” and economical way to feed Central Baltimore’s hospital staff while also supporting local restaurants. The initiative is called Square Meals.

Launched by the Central Baltimore Partnership (CBP), the program provides meals for emergency and critical care hospital workers at MedStar Union Memorial Hospital. Meals and snacks are provided by local restauranteurs, which helps them to maintain some operations and stay open during the coronavirus crisis.

“By this week, we would have served over 1,000 meals,” said Ellen Janes, executive director

of Central Baltimore Partnership. “That includes the medical, professional, and other staff working in those areas. These workers are so busy, and once they come on, they can rarely take a break. They are very appreciative and excited about this effort.”

She added, “All of the restaurants are in Central Baltimore. Right now, we have eight restaurants participating, and we will be bringing on new ones. The goal is to expand participation.”

The participating restaurants include Bramble Baking Co.; Carma’s; Clavel; Larder; Sophomore Coffee; and Secret Sauce Company at North Ave Market. The restaurants all prepare dinners, breakfasts, and snacks for the effort. The hospital picks up meals and snacks at the restaurants. The food is individually wrapped and distributed on the designated hospital floors.

Dinners are provided in grab-and-go form twice daily (once per shift), and breakfasts and snacks are provided throughout the day. CBP allocated existing funds and raised additional money from the community to cover the cost for these meals, giving 100 percent to restauranteurs and other vendors prior to or at the time of sale. The cost for one dinner is $12 per person, and breakfast and snacks, average $8 per person.

Clavel restaurant owner Lane Harlan and an employee after loading food for Square Meals.

Courtesy Photo

Clavel restaurant owner Lane Harlan and an employee after loading food for Square Meals.

According to Janes, CBP has raised over $50,000, largely from grassroots fundraising for the initiative. The effort recently received a donation from Baltimore Raven’s Head Coach John Harbaugh and his wife Ingrid. The amount of the donation was not disclosed, but made it possible to fund two meals per day for all emergency and critical care workers at Medstar’s Union Memorial Hospital for the next four weeks.

“This makes the Harbaughs our largest donors, and we are deeply grateful,” said Janes.

Square Meals was launched Friday, March 27, 2020. Janes talked about how the program came to fruition.

“Early on, we looked at what was going on in Seattle, Washington and in San Francisco,” recalled Janes. “There were efforts in those areas to support hospital workers, and we knew we wanted to do something like that. At the same time, here in Central Baltimore, we were hearing that people were staying home, and that restaurants in the community were really feeling the loss of business. We have worked so hard to help build Central Baltimore businesses, and we didn’t want to lose that momentum.”

She added, “We reached out to the restaurants, and got their insight. What we heard from the restaurants was that they didn’t want to lay off their staff. Some worked part-time, while others were not eligible for federal assistance. The restaurants helped us to think through the price point they would need. We felt that if we could raise the money, we could help the restaurants.”

Janes said she also discussed the idea with Bank of America.

“We asked Bank of America to reprogram a grant they had given us, and they instantly agreed. We saw this as something that would resonate with people. I am honored to be a part of many good things, but this is really gratifying. School children are writing thank you notes, and florists are sending flowers. We also get to support a nice array of businesses. It just keeps growing every day. We are determined to keep this going as long as the crisis persists.”

CBP is a ten-year old nonprofit with over 100 partners who together achieve a comprehensive strategy for community revival in 11 Central Baltimore neighborhoods. Their mission is to galvanize the renaissance of Central Baltimore. The organization pursues their mission by partnering with neighborhood organizations, nonprofits, educational institutions, businesses, and industries in Central Baltimore.

In addition to Square Meals, CBP’s other Coronavirus efforts include ensuring older adults living in senior high-rises in Central Baltimore receive food; helping senior citizens to obtain reusable face masks; organizing volunteers to help residents with errands such as picking up groceries and prescriptions; and helping businesses to apply for state and federal COVID-19 relief grants and loans.

“We’ve had 400 individual contributions, which is remarkable,” said Janes who was receiving a grocery donation from Wegman’s supermarket in Hunt Valley at the time of this interview. “It’s all been very heartwarming. Baltimore has always been a city of activism. But in this crisis, we have seen activism at its best.”

To make a contribution to Square Meals, visit www.centralbaltimore.org/donate-to-square-meals.