In the early days of the pandemic lockdowns, Paul Chansingthong asked a friend — a nurse at Life Care Center in Longmont — how things were going.
“They said the days were long, and they were constantly afraid of bringing the virus home to their family,” Chansingthong, co-owner of Urban Thai restaurant in Longmont’s Prospect neighborhood, says. “They were on-call, overworked and exhausted.”
Chansingthong knew he couldn’t be the only person who wanted to thank health care workers as they braved the pandemic. So, over the weekend of April 17, 2020, patrons of Urban Thai could donate a meal to a medical professional and the restaurant would match it. On April 23, Chansingthong took between 75 and 80 meals to Life Care Center.
“I appreciate their dedication and sacrifice,” Chansingthong says. “For me to do this, it’s a token of appreciation, one less thing [health care workers have to worry about], just a meal they didn’t have to cook or groceries they didn’t have to buy.”
Kailey McNerney, regional vice president of Life Care Centers of America, says that those early days of the pandemic were particularly scary, with a lack of personal protective equipment presenting a particularly worrisome scenario for the skilled nurses and physical therapists who work at the rehabilitation and long-term care center in Longmont.
“You think, we live in the United States of America, we should be able to readily get access to this, and that just wasn’t the case,” McNerney says. “People were having to make decisions: I’m called to work in this profession, but am I going to continue to do this and put not only myself but my family at risk as well?”
Residents, with an average age of around 80, according to McNerney, were scared as well.
“It was March 10. I remember because it was a pretty sad day for us,” McNerney says. “We had to go around to tell the families that we weren’t kicking them out at that moment, but it would be their last visit for a while, and we had no idea how long it would last.”
Receiving free meals from Urban Thai was a welcome reminder that “the community was thinking of us at the same time,” McNerney says, as businesses like Urban Thai had been severely impacted by state health guidelines.
“We wanted to make sure that people thought about them, too,” she says. “We took some pictures and posted them on Facebook, thanking [Urban Thai] and just letting our [residents’] families know if you can support them, please do, because they supported us.”
Other eateries around the county provided meals for other health care workers: Big Red F group and Las Palmeras Mexican Restaurant both provided meals to staff at Longmont United Hospital in June; Cured and a number of other Boulder-culinary enterprises (including Big Red F and Community Table Kitchen) likewise provided specialty meals to Boulder Community Health staff during the spring and summer.
Chansingthong says that it was an easy decision to provide meals for health care workers.
“I talked to people in the community who said they wanted to help but didn’t know how,” he says. “And I knew that we could help. … We have a commercial kitchen that allows us to produce lots of food quickly and safely. It was an easy choice.”
The staff at Life Care Center in Longmont were quick to offer their appreciation.
“Thank you so much. This was a wonderful meal that truly made my day,” one staffer wrote on Facebook.
“The meals given to us were great, and much appreciated!” wrote another.
“You are very welcome,” Chansingthong responded. “Thank you for what you do.”
— Caitlin Rockett