Life will go back to “normal” one day, but I have a feeling it will look a little different than it used to. What I know will remain the same, because our very lives depend on it, is the tireless work and dedication our first responders and medical workers provide us with on a daily basis, COVID-19 or not. They don’t work within the confines of business hours. They don’t get to close and then reopen the next day. They don’t get to pass on projects. They are an essential machine that keeps us safely growing in an ever-changing world.
We’ve also heard of the struggle local businesses are enduring because of the epidemic’s impact. With channels of volume shut down, restaurants are bringing in just enough to probably break even, if that, through deliveries and pickup. I say that loosely because I simply do not know. The servers, the local ones that serve us our meals when we don’t feel like cooking or cleaning, depend on tips that simply aren’t coming in like they used to. Instead, I’ve seen my favorite servers from some of my favorite OP establishments pivot gracefully to carry-out a la gazebo/tent, standing in the heat with gloves and masks, smiling just happy to be working. I’m not saying this to make you feel bad. I’m saying this to highlight the gumption and tenacity our local businesses have to survive in this crisis. I’m also saying this because I know they need help too. I mean, just think of what local life would be like without them.
Who, aside from the families who go countless hours without them, takes care of the first responders and hospital workers, or the local businesses struggling to survive? I found an answer for that in Oakland Park and it blends these different industries together. Without us even knowing, local restaurants in Oakland Park have not only been providing customers food for Uber, Grub Hub and all the other delivery services, but have also been coordinating with Vice Mayor Jane Bolin to provide meals for first responders in our City at incredibly discounted rates.
The Vice Mayor first got involved with a woman named Melissa Schiff, who put together a local Meal Train to provide meals for hospital workers who are on the front lines, with all meals provided by local restaurants. The meals come by way of donations, which can all be explained at www.mealtrain.com. Since this was an incredible success that included two of the main industries on the front lines right now—hospital staff and restaurants, and knowing our City was teeming with excellent food, Vice Mayor Bolin coordinated an effort with local restaurants that had the means to provide generous discounts on meals. The first restaurant Jane reached out to was Caruso’s. “I called Caruso’s and said ‘Let me support you. Can you make some money on this and give me a deal?’ And he said ‘Of course!’”, said Vice Mayor Bolin. “Caruso’s helped provide seventy meals.”
Jane has now gone further, still in coordination with local restaurants, to provide several meals to Oakland Park’s first responders as well. The first round was done with coffee and pastries from Calusa Coffee Roasters at 161 East Commercial Blvd. I spoke to one of the owners, Luis, about how they got involved:
“We’re a wholesaler, coffee roaster and we have some cafe in-house. We work with local mom-and-pop shops that are just like us, but bakeries. There is a French Bakery called Le Vinois, that we work with and they provided us with some ham and cheese croissants and almond pastries. We also work with Inaca Fine Foods and they provided us with chocolate banana muffins and vegan empanadas for people who don’t eat meat… They got delivered to all the fire stations in Oakland Park and then the BSO office on Dixie. It’s just a little way to give back since they’re there for us.”
The owners of El Guanaco went in on another donation provided by the Vice Mayor, and they too gave a benevolent discount on food which imparted both lunches and dinners for all three fire stations and the BSO office in Oakland Park. “I decided to give the discount because they are all our first responders, our heroes! Since Jane Bolin trusted in me to feed them I also wanted to be a part of that beautiful deed that she was doing! Oakland Park is my city. I work with them well. They support me all the way and I just wanted to give a little back,” said El Guanaco owner, Cristina Ardon.
Pink Subs, located in the American Legion, has even gotten involved by supplying meals for industry workers. The generosity is everywhere!
For those of us not on the front lines, our daily lives have become Groundhog Days, with not many ways for us to give back. I’m loving the Meal Train because it’s a win-win for both sides. The businesses get to make a little money and front line workers get fed. It’s genius. I’m grateful for Vice Mayor Bolin’s efforts and all the food provided by the restaurants mentioned in this article. I’ve even heard there are many more restaurants in Oakland Park getting involved in this initiative so it’s become a call to action.
We can continue to do our part by staying home and ordering locally when we can, but if you have the means to donate more, be it as a resident or even business owner, please check out the website for Meal Train mentioned above or contact Vice Mayor Jane Bolin to coordinate a donation for our city’s first responders. #TogetherWeAreOP
Steven Mayer is a local Floridian who grew up in the South Corals area of Oakland Park most of his life. He attended Rickards Middle, Northeast High and earned his B.A. in English from FAU. He’s done some writing and editorial work for a south Florida lifestyle magazine and is proud to have been a partner with Starbucks for a total of 18 years.
After testing out a couple U.S. cities in his twenties, Steven realized that nothing beats home, and eventually settled back down in the Downtown Oakland Park area with his partner Douglas (another Oakland Park native), their three Pekinese dogs and two beautiful cats.
Steven enjoys anything Disney, vegan cooking, going for runs, attending local festivals, traveling, and game nights with friends and family.