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The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Helping hands: Ward 2 steps up in wake of pandemic

File Photo by Eric Lee
The DC CAN exposure system – a cellphone alert for individuals that notifies them when they have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive – will remain in effect.

The District might be reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic, but there are still glimpses of hope around Ward 2.

Community members ranging from medical school students to Foggy Bottom leaders are organizing projects to aid people impacted by the outbreak. Some people raised funds for unemployed restaurant workers during the pandemic, while others are delivering meals to elderly residents staying at home to limit the spread of the virus.

Over the course of April, The Hatchet is releasing stories highlighting Ward 2 residents or students extending help in the wake of the pandemic. The first batch of stories were released April 13, the next four were published April 20 and the final set came out April 27.

Ward 2 projects

Click on the photos to learn more about each initiative.

Senior citizen food deliveries

D.C. COVID-19 guide

‘Restaurant Madness’

The Store soldiers on

Food kitchen aids homeless

Nando’s gives to workers

Local leader raises thousands

Tutoring lessons moved online

Clothing sale raises funds

Farmers market in business

Nonprofit gives seniors meals

Students aid medical workers

Tonic fundraises for workers

Resources for students

If you’re a student in need of aid, here are a few resources to check out:

    • GW CARES Student Assistant Fund
    • The Student Association’s mutual aid spreadsheet
    • Pass/No Pass request forms for CCAS and Elliott School students
    • Dining and parking reimbursement form
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Community members deliver food to Foggy Bottom senior citizens

Foggy Bottom community members are delivering meals and groceries to elderly residents quarantined at home to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Community members and local leaders are working with Foggy Bottom West End Village – a group that organizes services and social activities for elderly residents – to pack and deliver meals to seniors who can’t leave home. Denise Snyder, the organization’s executive director, said she’s focused on ensuring elderly residents don’t feel socially isolated while they comply with Mayor Muriel Bowser’s stay-at-home order implemented last month.

“Trying to counter that dynamic is one of the cores of what we have always done,” Snyder said. “And it’s definitely underlying what we’re doing now because obviously people’s social isolation has escalated due to this health crisis.”

Snyder said Foggy Bottom West End Village volunteers have been grocery shopping for elderly residents to ensure they still get the food items they need during the pandemic.

She said World Central Kitchen, a D.C.-based non-profit run by celebrity chef José Andrés, has been donating the meals to deliver. Snyder said the group is prioritizing meal deliveries to elderly residents who can’t cook at home or shouldn’t leave the house often to grocery shop themselves.

Volunteers have been delivering 35 meals to seniors each day since last month, which she said gives elderly residents an opportunity to see another community member and take part in short conversations while maintaining social distancing.

“It’s a no-contact delivery – there’s still an opportunity to see somebody six feet away – but a chance to put your eyes on somebody and have a brief conversation when the meal is dropped off,” she said.

Snyder added that the organization is hosting virtual happy hours and coffee meetings via Zoom so elderly residents have an opportunity to socialize with one another. She said the online meetings are the only time that some seniors are able to contact their friends.

“One of the positive aspects about the village is that we have over the years built a very significant network, so people know each other,” she said. “And being able to see their friends online on Zoom or see our volunteers when they come by with groceries or meals is often the only time they get that kind of contact.”

Marina Streznewski, the president of the Foggy Bottom Association, said she and other community members have been volunteering to prepare and deliver the meals to elderly residents.

“We are participating with the Foggy Bottom West End Village and the two organizations are working together to deliver meals to seniors,” she said. “We bring them lunch basically every day.”

James Harnett, a senior and ANC commissioner who’s still living on campus, said he started volunteering a couple of times each week to deliver meals because he has more free time now that classes have moved online.

“It’s important that, as this crisis continues, we’re getting people who are in less vulnerable positions to volunteer their time, especially people that are able to self-isolate when they’re not otherwise out delivering food,” he said.

Harnett said the residents he delivers to are grateful for their meals, and he enjoys speaking with them while remaining socially distant.

“It’s great interacting on obviously a very limited basis with the people that we’ve delivered food for, but they’re always incredibly gracious and that’s what brings me back every day to help do it again,” he said.

Video by Heidi Estrada. Story by Lia DeGroot and Vivi Mehren.

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Medical school students develop guide to navigate COVID-19 in D.C.

After the COVID-19 pandemic forced Harleen Marwah and her medical school peers to stop clinical rotations, they poured their time into creating a source of information about the novel virus.

Marwah and her peers created the D.C. COVID Connect Guide, a 70-page Google document that includes the latest COVID-19 data, links to government information about the pandemic and up-to-date research on the virus, in mid-March. She said she hopes people will use the guide to find accurate and reliable information about the coronavirus.

Marwah said medical students at New York University, who published a similar guide, inspired her to put together a District version. She brought the idea to her medical school’s deans and classmates, published the first version in less than a week and now 35 medical students are helping to update the guide daily, she said.

“Even though there are medical students around the country who are not currently in the hospital, we’re doing our best to find creative ways to support the efforts of all of our healthcare colleagues,” Marwah said. “We’ve really been inspired.”

The guide is formatted as a booklet with a table of contents directing readers to information about topics like where to get coronavirus testing and local transportation operations.

More than 1,800 people have tested positive for COVID-19 as of Saturday, according to D.C.’s coronavirus website.

“In the midst of this global pandemic, it’s so critical that accurate information is being communicated clearly with the public,” Marwah said.

Marwah said she and her colleagues used their education in clinical public health to build the guide.

“We know that health extends beyond the traditional clinical setting,” Marwah said.

She said other medical school students provided new ideas for the guide, like adding subsections for pregnant community members and resources for individuals experiencing homelessness.

“Our goal is to not only address people’s pressing concerns about the ongoing pandemic but also address their preexisting concerns about social support, financial resources, access to care,” Marwah said.

She said the team of medical students has shared the guide through physician networks and has reached out to physicians, deans and schools across GW and the communications department to distribute its resources with the public.

“From the start, it was a large and somewhat larger group but very energetic and dedicated and passionate about getting the community information that they needed,” Marwah said.

She said the collection of medical students has distributed the guide through call centers and social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Members of government offices, the University and the GW Hospital’s surgery department have retweeted participants’ promotion of the guide, the platforms show.

Marwah said the group hopes to “amplify” the guide’s message using social media and is developing translations into Spanish, French, Arabic and Mandarin to more broadly share the information.

“While I may not have all questions explicitly answered, we’re hoping it can point people in the right direction of those reliable, accurate resources,” she said. “And really, during this time of uncertainty, we just want this guide to make it easier for people to stay safe and in community.”

Video by Heidi Estrada. Story by Vivi Mehren.

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‘Restaurant Madness’ raises money for local GWorld vendors

A Facebook tournament crowning students’ favorite GWorld spot has helped generate more than $150,000 and more than 8,000 meals for restaurant workers left jobless from the COVID-19 outbreak.

Sophomore Peter Opitz created the 2020 GW Restaurant Madness Competition, a spinoff of the NCAA’s March Madness basketball tournament, held on the “Overheard at GW” Facebook group from March 25 to 31. Opitz said the competition racked up more than 2,400 likes, comments and shares and rallied students to donate to unemployed food service workers in D.C.

“I wanted to provide an opportunity to create a fun distraction from quarantine and online classes but also wanted to make sure that GW students could help give back to the community,” he said.

Students could vote for one vendor each round with either a heart or a grinning emoji and could triple their vote with proof of purchase from vendors or a donation to a local restaurant workers’ relief program.

GW Deli ultimately won the title of “The Most Favorite Restaurant at GW” with 314 votes, beating out runner-up Toryumon Japanese House, which secured 153 tallies, according to Opitz’s post for the “championship game.”

“Obviously I don’t really care which restaurant won, but I’m happy that students enjoyed the experience, had the opportunity to vote for their favorite restaurants and that it raised awareness of the plight that service workers are in,” he said.

Opitz said he was inspired to start the tournament after seeing a similar March Madness-style restaurant bracket to benefit unemployed restaurant workers in a University of Wisconsin-Madison Facebook meme page. He said the competition could serve as a “substitute” for GW students after the NCAA canceled this year’s March Madness tournament.

Opitz said he used tools in Adobe Creative Cloud he learned in his political communication and design classes to create graphics and run the competition. He seeded restaurants by relative location around Foggy Bottom, Yelp reviews and accessibility to students, Opitz said.

He said some donations were sent to the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington Coronavirus Worker Relief Fund, which raises money for restaurant and food service workers. Participants could also donate to the Restaurant Workers Relief Program, sponsored by the LEE Initiative, an organization that advocates for minority restaurant workers nationwide, he said.

Opitz said the competition was the “least he could do” to support restaurants and service workers, including students, put out of work because of the pandemic.

“This time of social distancing has hit many restaurants around GW hard, forcing thousands of service workers in D.C. to weather this crisis without any income,” Opitz said in his original post on “Overheard at GW.”

He said he was “really excited” to see the awareness generated by the tournament, which caught the attention of the Facebook group holding more than 22,000 members.

“It really turned out to be a lot bigger and more successful than I could have imagined when I first created it, and I’m really happy,” Opitz said.

Video by Amanda Plocharski. Story by Vivi Mehren.

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The Store continues operations for students remaining on campus

The majority of students may have cleared campus, but GW’s student-led food pantry is still distributing food for those still in D.C.

Katie Howell, the president of The Store, said the Student Association held a food drive last month to help stock shelves with dry goods and hygiene products for those staying on campus, and volunteers are sending out additional resources for food options through a newsletter. Howell said The Store is continuing daily service from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., even after officials shut down campus last month, for shoppers still reliant on free food options in the District.

“We’re committed to being a resource for anybody who’s there,” Howell said. “And while we recognize that we’re not operating at full capacity, we still want to be there as much as we can. It’s not a ton of people there, but they’re still there and they still need us.”

She said the number of students using The Store dropped from an average of 15 to 20 daily shoppers to about two shoppers per day after the majority of students left campus last month.

About 200 students are remaining in residence halls on campus.

Howell, who is overseeing operations from home, said volunteers also sent shoppers last weekend a list of DMV-area food resources like food banks, community kitchens and restaurants to help students find alternative free food options.

The list includes 11 links to web pages and maps of hundreds of nearby locations offering free food, including community kitchens established by chef and visiting professor José Andrés, free pet food and interactive maps displaying free and accessible food sites in the entire DMV.

“There’s a lot of really cool stuff that people are doing and being creative and trying to expand food resources in the area,” Howell said. “So hopefully by providing that, we’re making up for what we aren’t really able to meet.”

She said custodial workers, the pantry’s only caretakers left on campus, are cleaning and inspecting The Store weekly and posting instructions for shoppers to use hand sanitizers and wipes while shopping. Howell said District House staff members will contact Andrew Sonn, The Store’s faculty adviser, to report any issues with the pantry’s operations.

“We’re doing our best to keep it sanitized while keeping ourselves safe as well,” she said.

The Store will increase its deliveries and grocery supplies next year using this semester’s unspent funds from their $200,000 endowment established last month, Howell said. She said The Store could use leftover funding to increase and diversify its stock of dairy and produce goods and cater to dietary restrictions for religious holidays.

“With the endowment and unfortunately the money we have not spent this semester, we’ll be able to continue to use that and be in our whole operation as soon as we’re allowed to,” Howell said.

She said the SA held a food drive last month during which students donated leftover food items to The Store before vacating their residence halls. Howell said the turnout was “awesome” and The Store quickly sold out of groceries that packed four full residence hall moving carts and overflowed store shelves.

“It was amazing,” Howell said. “People really thought of us, and they came out, and unfortunately it went very fast. But it was a great thing that students did.”

SA President SJ Matthews, who volunteered at the drive after pitching the idea to The Store, said she was pleased to see the food drive bring students together and generate donations to The Store and students in need.

“It’s just a great resource we have for the community, which is definitely why it’s getting utilized,” she said.

Matthews said she hopes the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak will “force” administrators to consider expanding The Store in Foggy Bottom and on the Vern.

SA President-elect Howard Brookins included adding a student-run food cooperative on the Foggy Bottom Campus to his platform, located on F Street near the halls farthest from a grocery store.

“The University should be providing the means that students can eat without worry,” Matthews said. “And I am hoping this crisis, that one good thing to come out of it will be the University is more aware of the needs the student body has and they’ll be able to meet them.”

Story by Jarrod Wardwell.

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Miriam’s Kitchen feeds homeless community struggling through pandemic

A local organization that provides meals and housing assistance for residents experiencing homelessness has moved operations outdoors to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Mei Powers, the chief development officer for Miriam’s Kitchen, said the organization has moved meal pick-up to tents stationed outside its building at 2401 Virginia Ave. and has been delivering groceries to residents living in affordable housing since mid-March. Powers said Miriam’s Kitchen must continue to provide food during the pandemic because the homeless population doesn’t have access to stable health care or housing and are “vulnerable” to infection because of “complicating health factors” tied to old age.

“When you think about our neighbors experiencing homelessness, they already face a multitude of inequities and challenges that make them have poorer health outcomes,” she said. “They have a shorter lifespan than the average resident, and the pandemic only throws more complex layers on top of that.”

A University of Pennsylvania report released last month found that individuals experiencing homelessness are more likely to require critical care or hospitalizations or to die from COVID-19 compared to the general population. Powers said many of the kitchen’s guests consider finding housing “a feeling of life or death circumstance.”

“If they’re elderly, they already have complicating health factors, and they don’t have a place to wash their hands or place to stay home when they’re sick,” Powers said.

She said Miriam’s Kitchen has added portable bathrooms outside the meal tents in the courtyard facing Virginia Avenue to provide community members with a safe place to use the bathroom and wash their hands.

“When you don’t have a place to call home, you don’t have a sink to wash your hands, you don’t have a place to isolate, you can’t follow these basic protocols to protect your health,” Powers said. “We’re just trying to fill in the gaps as best we can.”

The District reported its first case of coronavirus on March 7 and has hit nearly 2,800 confirmed cases as of Sunday, according to D.C.’s coronavirus website. Mayor Muriel Bowser ordered the closure of all non-essential businesses and issued a stay-at-home order on March 31, leaving homeless shelters with packed quarters.

Powers said Miriam’s Kitchen served about 200 people March 13, the first day the organization moved services outside, and volunteers are now serving between 250 and 270 meals each day. She said the kitchen is delivering an additional 100 meals to areas with high concentrations of people experiencing homelessness.

“There are some folks who didn’t want to go to shelters or places before, and with the pandemic, they are even more concerned about going to shelters,” Powers said. “We’re trying to walk that last mile, literally, for some foods so people can still have access to food.”

Kitchen volunteers have been dropping off 20 to 25 daily non-contact grocery deliveries to local residents since the pandemic’s outbreak, Powers said. She said the deliveries are a new feature of the kitchen’s housing program that help locals view housing options and run errands so they can permanently reside in their own housing units.

“It’s not just about housing people,” Powers said. “It’s making sure that people can stay in housing. And that’s what we want as a community.”

She said organization leaders decided to halt most volunteer shifts to limit personal contact and protect elderly volunteers, who are especially at risk of contracting the virus. Powers said chefs are now working 14-hour shifts to make up for the decline in volunteers.

Powers said she doesn’t know when the kitchen will return to normal operations, but leaders plan to keep working as long as safely possible.

“We have never once closed our doors,” she said. “We’ve endured recessions, government shutdowns, snow-apocalypses, things like that. It is our intent to continue to be open for our guests when they need us most.”

Video by Amanda Plocharski. Story by Lia DeGroot.

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Nando’s PERi-PERi donates meals to hospital, restaurant workers during pandemic

A restaurant chain is supplying free meals to D.C. restaurant and hospital workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sam Blum, the brand manager of Nando’s PERi-PERi, a South African restaurant chain with six District locations, said Nando’s founded the Stand Together program late last month to donate meals to essential workers using its own profits. Blum said Nando’s has distributed 6,000 meals to D.C-area hospital workers and unemployed restaurant workers, including Nando’s employees.

“It’s all about building community, doing the right thing and making sure that these people feel appreciated for just how hard they’re working,” he said.

Nando’s delivers free meals to District hospitals every day and shipped 700 meals Friday to the GW Hospital as one of the program’s “larger donations,” Blum said. He added that the company also shipped deliveries to Howard University Hospital and hospitals in Baltimore and northern Virginia.

“We’re really trying to leverage the power of our communities to understand who needs help and where we can provide that type of support,” Blum said. “And our guests have actually done a great job, whether they work in hospitals themselves or know someone who’s on the front lines.”

He said the company caters meals for hospital workers and offers free takeout for restaurant employees. Blum said customers can nominate workers and organizations to receive free meals from Nando’s through email or social media.

“It’s been really as many people as we’re able to provide meals for,” he said.

Blum said Nando’s is paying for the costs of the donations with their own profits, which “doesn’t come cheaply.” The program will continue until at least May 3, when the company will decide whether or not to continue meal donations depending on the pandemic’s severity and the company’s finances, he said.

TwentyTables launched a similar program called “Feed the Frontlines” last month, which pays food trucks to serve meals for health care workers in D.C.

“Obviously, the situation continues to evolve day by day,” Blum said. “So it’s something that we are looking at constantly, not just for this particular campaign but also our own restaurant operations.”

He said only Nando’s employees who volunteered are working the Stand Together program, and they must undergo health checks at the beginning and end of every shift. Blum said Nando’s is allowing only 10 customers in the restaurant at once, requiring workers to frequently wash their hands, clean surfaces and comply with each hospital’s safety guidelines, like wearing masks and staying outside when making deliveries.

“We’re making sure that everything in the restaurant is following the guidelines that have been set out but also, when those deliveries are being made, that we’re doing the same thing,” Blum said.

He said Nando’s is filling extra shifts with staff members and “doing everything” possible to keep its workers employed even after the company’s sales “have taken a large hit” since the outbreak began. Blum said the company may have to “consolidate some operations” as the pandemic progresses.

“It’s not about the chicken,” Blum said. “It’s about the people that make the chicken. And that is that our Nando’s family comes before profits, before anything. So we’re working as hard as we can.”

GW Hospital spokeswoman Susan Griffiths said the hospital is grateful for the 700 meals Nando’s delivered Friday on top of the “outpouring” of donations from other organizations throughout the D.C. area.

“It reflects the commitment that the community has to help our care team as they remain steadfastly committed to helping our patients,” Griffiths said in an email. “It encourages them throughout their shift and reminds them that their work is greatly valued.”

Video by Heidi Estrada. Story by Jarrod Wardwell.

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ANC commissioner drives fundraiser for unemployed restaurant workers

A local leader is spearheading a fundraising campaign to support restaurant workers left unemployed during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Trupti Patel, a Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood commissioner, said she has helped raise more than $32,000 for more than 200 unemployed restaurant workers through a partnership with the Restaurant Opportunity Center, a non-profit restaurant worker advocacy group. Patel said she hopes the ROC-DC Restaurant Worker Relief Fund, which began donating between $100 to $300 to each worker late last month, will prompt officials to raise pay for subminimum wage workers.

“I, along with the other members of ROC United D.C., was immediately inundated with stories of our own respective co-workers who were terrified and petrified in how they were going to be able to pay their bills,” she said.

Patel said the campaign has earmarked almost $40,000 from ROC’s matching policy in which the company donates extra money for workers who have a child or need either urgent care or unemployment insurance. After surpassing the ROC’s previous $30,000 benchmark, the organization is now eyeing a new fundraising goal of $50,000 and asking restaurant workers if their living situation qualifies for matched funds, Patel said.

“We are just so overwhelmed with gratitude at the generosity of complete strangers for a segment of the population that usually goes unseen, unnoticed,” she said.

Patel, laid off from her bartending job in the wake of the outbreak, said she has used her Ward 2 leadership positions within the ANC and D.C. Mutual Aid Network – a group of local residents exchanging food, groceries and financial assistance – to urge others via social media to donate to the fund. She said she has asked community members to send tipped workers who earn subminimum wages to Patel and the ROC team to receive donations.

“I did this all in my personal capacity, but I do know that people in the community trusted me to know that it was something legitimate,” she said. “I had put my name to it. I was pushing it.”

ROC United is transferring donations via Venmo or PayPal to pay workers “as quickly as possible,” she said.

Patel said many restaurant workers have been struggling emotionally through the isolation that comes with unemployment and the District’s current stay-at-home order, which Mayor Muriel Bowser put in place March 31 and currently lasts until May 15.

“A lot of them have just said that it was about a lifeline that they needed,” she said. “It has made a difference in their emotional well-being as well as their physical well-being.”

Patel said workers have told the organization they are struggling to pay for food, medicine and insurance. She said some of the workers are struggling to scrape together enough money for rent.

“I’ve never had so many people say, ‘I never thought I would be in this position where I wouldn’t be able to take care of myself,’” Patel said. “And it is a very humbling and very grounding experience. It just goes to show that COVID-19 does not discriminate against anybody.”

She said the many local tipped workers who are undocumented are resisting financial support from community resources out of fear that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will deport them. Patel said witnessing local undocumented workers labor through fear and financial struggle is “heartbreaking.”

“No one wants to risk going out to get these resources and then to get deported by ICE or have the threat of, ‘Well the police are going to call ICE because they know I come to this resource center,’” she said.

Patel said she hopes the fundraiser will draw attention to the need for a single minimum wage, now $14.00 per hour for all non-tipped workers, instead of the current $4.45 subminimum for tipped workers.

The D.C. Council repealed a proposed ballot measure called “Initiative 77” in 2018 that would have raised tipped workers’ wages to standard minimum wage by 2026.

“People are starting to see the deep inequity, how this is hitting an industry in such a hard, hard, hard way,” Patel said. “And if I can get anything out of this entire pandemic, it’s for Americans to start saying, ‘You know what, this is not OK.’”

Video by Amanda Plocharski. Story by Jarrod Wardwell.

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Tutoring organization moves lessons online to serve Latino students during COVID-19

After education professional Clara Lincoln helped a mother set up a Zoom meeting, the woman’s two boys have been tuning into weekly online tutoring sessions through Lincoln’s tutoring program.

The Latino Student Fund – a Nashman Center partner that offers free tutoring for Hispanic students and families to address inequality in Hispanic education – has turned its services online to continue helping families impacted by COVID-19. Lincoln, the LSF tutoring program manager, said juggling housework and helping her children complete homework has been “overwhelming” for the mother, demonstrating how COVID-19 has forced families to balance work and full-time childcare while schools are closed.

“She doesn’t have time to sit and work on reading comprehension with them throughout the whole day,” Lincoln said. “She says that they have tutoring time so that they can sit aside and work with tutors who will just work with them.”

D.C. public schools shuttered March 16, and Mayor Muriel Bowser announced Friday that schools will remain closed for the rest of the academic year. Bowser extended D.C.’s public health emergency, which includes a stay-at-home order, to the same date, according to a release from the mayor’s office.

LSF offers four main educational programs, like workshops on applying to privately owned or religiously affiliated parochial and independent schools, math and reading tutoring, a college preparatory program and mentoring, according to the organization’s website.

Lincoln said the organization switched to distance learning March 23 and has since logged more than 250 hours of video tutoring. She said more than 100 volunteers are currently working with about 75 students from more than 25 different schools.

Lincoln added that the transition to distance learning has required a “learning curve” for families needing to balance more childcare and teaching responsibilities from the house. But she said parents and tutors have told LSF staff that the program’s two-hour lessons provide structured time for students and tutors during the day while people cannot leave their homes.

She said online programming has helped students complete their work when they cannot receive help at school and their families may have to work, not speak English or face other “barriers” between students and their schoolwork.

“It’s amazing to see the ways that our community is coming together right now to support the folks that need the help at this time,” Lincoln said.

Blanca Agudelo, the organization’s programs manager, said the Latino Student Fund has increased its amount of programming since the organization moved online to further meet their families’ needs during the pandemic. She said students can now sign up for tutoring Monday through Friday from 3 to 6 p.m. after the organization originally held tutoring only on Saturday mornings.

“We’re really excited that we were able to pool our resources and just work really hard to make that available to our families,” she said.

Agudelo said the organization now offers extended hours for its postsecondary success program, which includes programming like mentoring and college prep, Monday through Friday because their students now have different schedules. She said the program currently serves about 25 to 30 students per week, but program coordinators worked individually with 65 students last week, down from 120 weekly students the program served before the pandemic.

Agudelo said staff “constantly” calls and emails families to keep in touch, reach out and ensure they know the organization will continue supporting them throughout the pandemic.

“We have pages of resources that we’re updating for our families: where to get meals, where to be able to get health care or whatever it is that they’re needing – where if we can’t provide it, we’re trying to let them know who can in the community,” she said.

Agudelo said LSF has begun to see an influx of nationwide applicants since the program’s switch online, and program leaders are hoping they can find ways to attract more mentors and tutors for the organization.

LSF is looking to mail SAT prep books to their high schoolers so students can still prepare for exams, which have been postponed until the pandemic recedes, she said.

“Our seniors are now feeling a little alone because they’re not at school,” Agudelo said. “We’ve seen the need to be able to be there for the seniors and still help them wrap up anything that they’re missing or keep applying to scholarships – whatever it is that they’re going through.”

Video by Dante Schulz. Story by Lizzie Mintz.

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Students donate portion of merchandise sales to GW Hospital during pandemic

Students are selling hoodies and T-shirts to raise money for the GW Hospital as it fights the coronavirus outbreak.

Sophomore Samantha Walley, who serves as a GW campus manager for UniversityTees, a national group that produces apparel for philanthropic efforts on college campuses, said the group led a two to three week-long fundraiser at GW to help fund supplies like masks and gloves for GW Hospital. She said fundraiser organizers donated 10 percent of its proceeds to the hospital because it’s a cause “personal” to the GW community.

“It was becoming apparent that colleges weren’t able to have any on-campus events,” she said. “Immediately, the reaction from a lot of us with UTees to all the campus managers was, ‘Well, what can we do to make philanthropy still happen?’”

Students could purchase sweatshirts or T-shirts emblazoned with the words “The Social Distancing Club” or with photos of Foggy Bottom locations, like Tonic and Crepeaway, for $20 to $38 starting earlier this month until last Friday. Walley said UniversityTees, which typically produces apparel for student organizations, originally started donating funds to each specific organization’s cause of choice when schools began canceling on-campus events and decided to expand to campus-wide fundraisers about three weeks ago.

She said the company hoped the T-shirt sales could bring students positivity through committing to a good cause after their semesters were cut short.

“In this instance, it was something that was so near and dear to all of our hearts, and I saw how much people were missing their friends and missing being at school,” she said.

Walley said a University of Michigan UniversityTee chapter sold apparel and earned about $2,000 and donated 10 percent of the company’s profits to a local food bank. New York University’s UTees chapter donated proceeds from a sorority’s merchandise sales to health care workers, police officers, firefighters, janitors and other essential workers during the pandemic.

“One of the things I noticed the most about being involved with these sorts of groups, like philanthropies and social organizations, is that people will love to give if they can get something for themselves,” she said. “Being able to have a T-shirt or something to hold on to to remember these occasions was a no-brainer for me.”

Nando’s PERi-PERi, a restaurant chain with locations throughout D.C., has donated more than 6,000 meals to District hospital workers, including those at GW Hospital and unemployed restaurant workers. Twenty Tables, an app-based food truck company that partners with GW Dining, also donated hundreds of meals to GW Hospital workers earlier this month.

Walley said she started another T-shirt and hoodie fundraiser for the hospital last week with the words “I miss Foggy Bottom” and “I miss D.C.” written on the apparel.

She said students responded positively to the fundraiser’s Facebook post with likes and comments. She said one couple decided to purchase identical T-shirts from the fundraiser because the designs were “trendy.”

“For me, this is an important fundraiser because I thought it was an opportunity for people who are so far away from each other to come together and to have one goal in mind, which is to help as much as possible,” Walley said.

Video by Amanda Plocharski. Story by Lia DeGroot.

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Dupont Circle farmers market continues serving shoppers, farmers through pandemic

The Dupont Circle farmers market is continuing to sell fresh produce outdoors every Sunday despite the shutdown of surrounding markets under the public health threat of COVID-19.

Molly Scalise, the communications and outreach director of FRESHFARM, a D.C.-area nonprofit farmers market chain, said Dupont Circle Market has utilized new safety measures like hand-washing stations, online pre-orders and one-way roads passing through the market to keep shoppers safe. She said the farmers market expanded opportunities for local vendors to sell goods to online shoppers and low-income residents and posted an online list of alternate resources like pickup and delivery offers from nearby farmers to boost local farmers’ sales.

“We at FRESHFARM really strongly believe that farmers markets are an essential service,” Scalise said. “We provide fresh local food to our communities all year round, and during the pandemic is no different.”

She said FRESHFARM has focused on its “pop-up food hub,” in which farmers bring extra food from their farms to its market delivery sites. She said FRESHFARM packs the food at these sites and delivers it to nearby low-income families registered with institutions like senior centers, daycare facilities and nonprofits like Bread for the City throughout the District.

Scalise said the pop-up hub could be another source of revenue for farmers who might be struggling to reach the same clientele during the pandemic.

“We’ve really ramped that program up during the pandemic, which not only is helping people who have limited access to fresh food and potentially have limited access to groceries in general, but it’s also providing an additional revenue outlet for farmers,” she said.

FRESHFARM is helping farmers sell and promote their businesses online while in-person sales may be limited as regular shoppers self-isolate, Scalise said. She said the number of weekly spring customers has declined from 4,000 to 5,000 a year ago to 2,000 during the pandemic.

Scalise said the number of vendors for FRESHFARM has also decreased by a third, as the market has less space available because of added space between stands to facilitate social distancing. She said some farmers have opted out of attending the market “due to safety concerns.”

The company posted a support page earlier this month for farmers on its website, which includes “action items” like a farmers’ relief fund, business loans and financial, business and legal resources.

“Our first priority is being there for our farmers,” she said. “That is the mission of our organization.”

Scalise said FRESHFARM is working closely with its farmers to ensure they can continue to maintain a financially stable business through continued sales and the company’s expanded online resources.

“We always have a really close ongoing relationship with our farmers,” Scalise said. “And so we’re offering guidance on how they can get online, implementing systems that make it easier for them to sell their products.”

She said the market is constantly improving its safety measures to avoid dangerous crowding on the market’s usually packed walkways between food stands.

The market posted a list of shopping alternatives to the market on its website, including almost 200 pre-order, pickup and delivery options from nearby farmers and businesses in Dupont Circle and other neighborhoods in D.C. She said the resources are meant for local shoppers who don’t want to travel to any of FRESHFARM’s operating DMV locations.

Scalise said consumers can place a pre-order directly with vendors to expedite their shopping and reduce their risk of infection. Scalise said shopping at the market is “grab and go” as vendors are pre-packaging food before shoppers select their purchases to cut down on market congestion.

“Everybody I think realizes that we’re all doing everything we can to keep each other safe and that it’s on all of us to follow those rules to make sure that we’re protecting each other,” she said.

Scalise said the market has been reviewing its operations every day to ensure the shopping space is clean. She said the market is limiting the number of shoppers in the outlet at one to two people per group, requiring all shoppers to wear masks and marking shopping lines to facilitate safe social distancing.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser disqualified all farmers markets as essential businesses earlier this month unless they receive a weekly waiver given to markets that submit their safety protocols to the D.C. government. Scalise said FRESHFARM has worked closely with both the D.C. government and the D.C Food Policy Council to ensure the market’s safety protocols are satisfactory.

Scalise said purchases have jumped despite the drop in customers because shoppers are trying to minimize trips and avoid going to indoor grocery stores, which she said are more dangerous than the open-air markets. She said she has heard customers say they feel more comfortable and safer shopping at farmers markets instead of grocery stores.

“It is a major destination for a lot of people, and so as long as people need to eat, we want to be there and serve our community,” Scalise said. “We will continue to do everything that we can to keep it safe and be there and provide an essential service.”

Video by Dante Schulz. Story by Jarrod Wardwell.

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Nonprofit kitchen teams up with Washington Nationals to feed thousands

A community kitchen has taken over Nationals Park to deliver thousands of meals daily to community members cut off from food resources while D.C. residents self-isolate.

Josh Phelps – a relief operations manager for World Central Kitchen, a nonprofit combating world hunger and poverty – said the kitchen is cooking 10,000 meals per day out of Nationals Park to deliver food to local residents isolated from accessible food resources. He said the kitchen began operating out of the ballpark on March 7 to supply local communities with meals the kitchen purchases from local restaurants throughout the District.

“We’re filling a lot of pockets of need throughout D.C.,” he said. “Partnering with the Nats, we’re able to take over feeding of some of the communities that they serve as part of their philanthropic mission.”

The kitchen partnered with Nationals Philanthropies earlier this month to pump thousands of meals out of the team’s venue every day. José Andrés, a local chef and a GW visiting professor, has been heading WCK and numerous other community kitchens serving people affected by the COVID-19 outbreak throughout the DMV and the country.

Phelps said the stadium’s size has helped volunteers stay safe through social distancing while banding together to mass-produce meals out of a single location.

“We’re trying to do the maximum with the minimum,” Phelps said. “Obviously in the age of COVID, you want to be able to have a large enough space to practice social distancing.”

The kitchen cooks most of its meals in the morning and then hopes to distribute the entire load to the community by early afternoon, Phelps said. He said the kitchen is delivering meals through Uber and other delivery services that have waived delivery fees for the kitchen.

Phelps said police officers have also visited the kitchen to either pick up their own meals or deliver them to local neighborhoods.

“The ultimate goal would just be that somebody has an extra meal every day, whether it’s a hot meal or something that’s given to them refrigerated, they can eat up later – just to add supplemental meals to people’s diet,” he said.

Phelps said the kitchen has been working closely with several wards across D.C. through phone calls to coordinate its relief efforts with local residents’ needs. He said nonprofits have been the organization’s “eyes and ears” in relaying local neighborhoods’ needs back to the kitchen.

“It’s just what we do,” Phelps said. “Whether it’s after a national disaster, humanitarian crisis or now this unprecedented pandemic, we like to hop in and help people get fed.”

Phelps said GW Hospital has been supplying WCK with thermometers to check volunteers’ temperatures every time they come to work.

“Working with hospitals and clinics is a big part of what we’re doing, is feeding the frontline workers,” he said.

Patrick Kennedy, the chair of the Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission, said WCK originally contacted GW Hospital with free meals to feed hospital workers five or six weeks ago, but the hospital directed the kitchen to the Foggy Bottom Association, a local neighborhood group. Kennedy said the hospital could no longer run its discount program, which provided local seniors with affordable meals from the hospital’s cafeteria, because of restricted entry into the hospital flooded with COVID-19 patients.

He said the Foggy Bottom Association alerted Foggy Bottom West End Village, a group providing aid to local seniors, of the redirected meal deliveries and began regularly supplying the senior-care group with meals on a consistent basis, with help from other community leaders who distribute meals.

World Central Kitchen has been delivering meals to Foggy Bottom West End Village for nearly a month.

“It’s not just the fact that it’s meals,” he said. “It’s quality meals, companionship and it’s just so important I think at times like this especially. And it would not be possible without World Central Kitchen. There really would be no one else with the capability of meeting this need.”

Kennedy said food insecurity is “hidden” yet widespread in the Ward 2 community and has intensified its grip on locals since the pandemic’s outbreak. He said the hospital’s cancelation of its discount program added to the community-wide struggle.

“This crisis is hitting people at every socioeconomic strata, at every age level, and I think for us, what we really want to do is we want to meet the needs,” he said.

Kennedy said he has been exchanging phone calls and emails with local residents and has contacted building managers to relay messages to low-income residents without internet access to keep in touch with the Ward 2 community. He said locals have worked together to share resources and cater to each other’s needs.

“People are really just pitching in to help out one another, and I think that that really shows the promise and the potential of engagement at the community level,” he said.

Kennedy said local residents have been “enormously grateful” for meal deliveries from the kitchen because of the food as well as the social interaction. He said local relief efforts have aimed at combating both loneliness and hunger as seniors isolate during the pandemic.

“Just seeing another human face and being able to connect with someone is I think really what people appreciate the most about it,” he said.

Video by Heidi Estrada. Story by Jarrod Wardwell.

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Medical school students launch program serving families of health care workers

A group of medical school students is spearheading a program to provide hospital workers with childcare services while parents are on the frontlines of the fight against COVID-19.

Kime McClintock, the co-director of internal affairs for DC COVID Sitters – a D.C.-area medical student group assisting health care workers’ household needs – said students are babysitting, tutoring, grocery shopping and dog walking for local health care workers during the pandemic. She said students who volunteer with the program are matched with nearby families to help with childcare and household services while parents are out treating COVID-19 patients.

“We felt that this was something that was in need, given that we had heard so many families saying they needed help with childcare for their kids because they had to go into work themselves or they have telemedicine appointments all day long,” McClintock said.

Health care providers in the D.C.-area can sign up for the program after uploading their hospital badge and listing the household assistance they need, like grocery shopping or babysitting, McClintock said.

She said local undergraduate and graduate students from GW and other schools like Georgetown and Howard universities can apply to the program by visiting the organization’s website. She said the students can use an online map of registered families displaying the help they are requesting to match with a family.

McClintock said nationwide efforts to provide hospital workers with childcare assistance in Minnesota, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Oregon and California inspired the group to carry out their program in D.C. She said GW students make up “a significant portion” of the group’s student volunteers who work with families.

“We were a small group of people who saw a need and wanted to start going as quickly as possible, but we’re doing the best we could the whole time,” McClintock said.

She said the program requires that each student works with only one family at a time until the family no longer needs help “to contain exposure” to households at risk of infection. She said the group has spoken with representatives from GW’s Division of Infectious Diseases who have suggested frequent hand washing and social distancing as ways to protect health while students are working with families.

McClintock said some students have expressed concern about volunteering with the organization out of fear they might carry COVID-19 into their own homes with at-risk parents.

“I would definitely reiterate that this type of volunteer effort isn’t for everyone because it does carry inherent risk and that there are so many ways for students to be able to volunteer and give back in a way that is safer,” she said.

McClintock said grandparents were previously leaving their own homes to provide household care to many of the program’s families, placing the grandparents at greater risk from the virus. She said the pandemic has displaced some seniors who were previously living with their children who work as health care workers.

“The thing with COVID-19 is that there’s so much fear, especially for anyone who’s a little bit elderly or might have some underlying health condition and fear of transmission, and so a lot of health care workers didn’t want to rely on their own parent for child care anymore,” McClintock said.

Moena Nishikawa, the organization’s co-director of communications, said more than 50 students from schools throughout the D.C.-area have assisted about 40 health care workers’ families so far. The program serves workers from hospitals across the D.C.-area like GW Hospital, MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, Howard University Hospital, Washington Hospital Center and Children’s National Hospital, McClintock said.

“It’s been amazing to see the community come together in this manner during such a rough time for so many people and how willing people are to help one another out in a time of need,” she said.

Nishikawa said school and daycare closures and hospital schedule fluctuations have rattled families with health care workers.

“Not only are their work schedules changing day-by-day with demand but also the availability of people helping them out – their schedules’ changing as well – so there’s a lot of moving parts that I think everyone has had to find ways to figure out,” she said.

Alison Distler, a GW medical school student who began volunteering with the program last month, said she has been cooking and providing homework help and entertainment for a family’s children a few days per week. She said the children’s parents both work in the medical field at GW and Howard universities’ hospitals.

“We’ve built forts, made pasta from scratch, done science experiments and put on a magic show,” she said in an email.

Distler said she and other medical students were “frustrated” when they were pulled from their clinical rotations as the pandemic began to intensify in the District. She said they were eager to help the medical community in any way possible.

“While I can’t be in the hospital playing the part of a trusted medical team member, I can at least play the part of a trusted individual who can support health professionals in an entirely new way,” she said.

Distler said she has witnessed health care workers struggling to balance long hours at work with child care at home. She said parents have had to abstain from greeting their children after work until they remove their clothes and shower to avoid putting their loved ones at risk.

Distler said the parents she is serving have been staying at hotels for weeks to keep their family safe. She said protecting other family members is only part of the “emotional toll” health workers must endure after seeing the virus afflict patients at work.

“Everyone is scared,” she said. “Actually taking care of the patients who are on ventilators and dying is an entirely different experience than just reading about it in the news.”

Distler said she never saw herself taking care of children as a medical student, but she is happy to have found a new way to help the community through the pandemic.

“People are stepping forward in unconventional ways, which makes me proud of my GW community,” she said. “It means that we can all get through this together, one step at a time, as long we work together and are adaptable.”

Video by Dante Schulz. Story by Jarrod Wardwell.

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Tonic owner raises funds to support furloughed employees after closure

The owner of Tonic is raising funds to support his furloughed employees after the Foggy Bottom restaurant shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jeremy Pollok, the restaurant’s owner, had tried offering takeout and delivery for a week after COVID-19 hit D.C., but Tonic experienced a drop in visitors similar to other Foggy Bottom restaurants, which led the business to close. Pollok said he launched a GoFundMe page earlier this month as his more than 80 employees wait for unemployment benefits, raising nearly $15,000 as of Sunday for his staff.

“It’s very difficult for all of us to not be able to work together and be together,” Pollok said. “I always tell them that they’re the family I chose, and it’s just heartbreaking how much it’s affecting people.”

Pollok said all funds raised will go to his employees and will be distributed through checks based on who needs support the most, like those with families and those who rely on Tonic as their only source of income.

He said many of Tonic’s regular customers have donated to the fundraiser, which has garnered almost 200 donations, according to the GoFundMe page. Pollok is promoting the fundraiser through social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook, as well as word of mouth, he said.

“So many regulars have donated to the fundraiser and have sent me little notes of ‘thank you’ and how much they miss Tonic, and it’s really raised my spirits,” he said. “I’m looking forward to seeing all those people and being open and saying ‘thank you’ and getting back to normal, whatever that may be.”

Pollok said he has applied for almost 10 grants and government program funds, like the Paycheck Protection Program and the James Beard Foundation relief fund, which support small businesses, to compensate for the restaurant’s loss of income. He has not yet received any grants but has kept busy completing applications and communicating with Tonic’s vendors during the store’s closure, he said.

“We’ve been applying for every government program and grant and whatever else we can do to try to get some funds to exist,” he said. “And you know, frankly, we just have not had any luck with that so far.”

Pollok said he goes into Tonic’s location at 21st and G streets several days a week, which helps him keep “some semblance of normalcy.” He spends time in the restaurant completing tasks like painting the floors, cleaning the carpets and making a calendar with his employees’ birthdays, he said.

“Things like that, small projects, things that have been on the bottom of my to-do list for several years are now getting done,” he said.

Isabel Janetos, who has worked at Tonic for six years, said she has lost the majority of her income because of the restaurant’s closure. She said her other job, a part-time position that has since become a full-time job amid the stay-at-home orders, is keeping her financially “afloat.”

Local restaurants made the switch to selling meals through pickup and delivery after D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser ordered the closure of all non-essential businesses late last month. She issued a stay-at-home order six days later, prompting a number of restaurants to close because of a widespread drop in customers.

“It’s been difficult nevertheless because there is literally no financial wiggle room, and it will be tight for a while,” Janetos said in an email.

She said Tonic’s closure on March 16 left her feeling “heartbroken immediately” for Pollok, who she said serves as a “paternal figure” to many Tonic employees. Janetos, who first saw Pollok’s GoFundMe on her Facebook feed, said the fundraiser was “exactly something he would do,” adding that he is a business owner who puts his employers’ happiness “above all.”

“His steady demeanor is exactly what we need to hear right now,” Janetos said. “He signs off on his emails with ‘We will get through this’ and ‘Tonic will be back better than ever.’ I am just so grateful to have a boss and a friend like Jeremy.”

Floyd White, a part-time Tonic employee, said he is in a “much better situation” than other full-time Tonic employees because he works multiple jobs. But he said being separated from his usual Tonic job has been difficult because of his close connections with other Tonic employees.

“I’m at a loss just from not being able to go there,” he said. “I feel like part of me is missing.”

White, who has worked at Tonic since 2009, said he has stayed in touch with Pollok and other employees since the stay-at-home order was first issued but was unaware that Pollok planned to launch the GoFundMe before seeing the fund online. He said Pollok’s fundraiser is the first GoFundMe he has ever donated to.

“I’m still very impressed with the folks that have gone through and made donations,” White said. “I definitely think it speaks volumes as to what Tonic means to the community and to fellow staffers and past staffers.”

Video by Dante Schulz. Story by Ilena Peng.

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