Port Jefferson, N.Y. (NCC News) — The COVID-19 virus has ravished its way through America, leaving millions under strict ‘stay home’ orders from the government. Hospitals hardly had enough personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect doctors, nurses and staff, let alone medical students during their third-year rotations. In spite of the all-hands-on-deck situation, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced medical students to finish this year online rather than the usual in-person shadowing.
For four New York Institute of Technology (NYIT) Medical School students, sitting back while their peers and future co-workers were fighting this deadly virus on the frontlines was unacceptable – and Meals from Medical Students was born.
Founder, Aurel Apple said it was easy to get others to help once they created their Instagram, Venmo account and Facebook page.
“We started just posting on our social media, trying to get donations from, you know, our friends and family and people locally,” said the 25-year-old. “We ended up getting in the first night about $2,000, which was like crazy. We thought we would need more time to fundraise, but since we raised so much overnight, the next morning we just got to work planning our first donation.”
The original four members of the group were forced to figure everything out on the fly as they received not only monetary donations, but also local restaurants contacting them to donate food as well.
“We called around to the hospitals my friends and I have done rotations at and asked what floors could use food donations and at what times, and then I went on Google Maps and called all the local food places in the area and asked if they were willing to donate or match what we spent to get double the food for the hospitals and everyone has been so willing to help,” Apple said.
One of their main goals was to give the average person who may not have the hospital affiliations they did a simple way to show their appreciation for the healthcare workers doing hours of coronavirus shifts a day. All you have to do is Venmo @MealsFromMedStudents and they handle the rest.
“100% of the money we receive goes into buying food for hospitals and some other off-site facilities that are still open,” said Apple. “We have a shared spreadsheet with a bunch of other NYIT medical students where we write what restaurant is making the food, when, and where the food needs to be and people sign up to deliver the food, it’s been a pretty well-oiled machine so far.”
For Apple, her reason to start this organization was beyond just helping her peers. Her mother, father and step-mother are all physicians who have been working on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic.
Her mom, Dr. Caroline Engelhardt has been a physician at St. Charles Hospital and John T. Mather Memorial Hospital on Long Island for over 25 years. Dr. Engelhardt said she has never seen anything as widespread and deadly as the coronavirus.
“We see patients come in with acute respiratory distress requiring immediate intubation,” said the anesthesiologist. “We [have a lot] of patients passing away at the hospital at one time, which is overwhelming… and this is something that we’ve never had to experience before where we’ve had, say, 10 or 12 people dying in one day.”
Dr. Engelhardt said although they have seen the curve begin to flatten, this virus still spreads extremely easily, so social distancing and increased awareness are still important.
“With this virus, the key has been and will continue to be flattening the curve, so hospitals can handle treating everyone,” she said. “Social distancing, washing your hands often and avoiding touching your face remains important.”
John T. Mather Memorial Hospital and St. Charles Hospital are just two of dozens of places Meals From Medical Students have donated. Dr. Engelhardt said getting a hot meal during an emotionally taxing shift is very appreciated.
“Going into the lounge and being able to make yourself a warm plate of food, or even just grab a slice of pizza between seeing extremely sick patients helps,” she said. “You sometimes barely get a moment of mental rest during COVID shifts so it’s really nice if and when you do get that time to not even think about what to eat, just having it thought about for you already is really nice.”
You can support Meals From Medical Students and local healthcare heroes by sharing their social media, @MealsaromMedStudents on Instagram, and donating to their Venmo, @MealsFromMedStudents.