How long have you lived in Westport, and what were you doing/focused on before these crazy times (i.e., pre-March 2020)? 

Nicole: We’ve lived in Westport for almost 24 years, and have raised our girls here. I was the Fairfield County Site Director for Food Rescue US for the past 3 1/2 years.

Stephanie: I have lived in Westport for 11 years. I am the Editor and founder of CTbites.com

Please tell us about the organization / fundraiser you started to help frontline workers during this unprecedented time, and what motivated you to do this?

Nicole: My daughter came home from her Freshman year of college at Santa Clara University on Wednesday, March 11th, and almost immediately went back to Westport EMS where she’s been a volunteer since she was 16.  As I was sitting at home worrying about her and my friend who is an ER nurse I wanted to do something to show them some support.  I called Bill Taibe and asked if he would make me 40 individually packed meals that I could buy and deliver. I also knew the restaurants would be taking an immediate hit with the shelter in place rules.  I posted to a couple FB pages sharing what I was doing and asked if anyone wanted to contribute. The donations were immediate and generous.  As a mom, I was both proud of Emma’s service to our community and terrified, and wanted to do something productive which has now turned into Food For The Front Lines.

Stephanie: I can’t claim to have founded Food For The Front Lines, but Nicole Straight, our Founder, brought me in after roughly a week of operation once she realized this initiative was larger than a team of one. My job at CTbites is to promote and support the Connecticut restaurant and food community. As I watched the devastation brought upon this industry forced to close their doors, I wanted to do something to help. Food For The Front Lines created the perfect circle where the CT community could both support the restaurants, and in turn the healthcare workers, at the front lines of this pandemic.

You’ve raised over $85k! Please tell us about this process, what your goals are and what – if anything more – people can do to help?

Nicole: We’ve actually raised over $100K in a little over a month which is incredible!  Our goals are to be able to support our community owned restaurants by buying meals to regularly feed all of the hospitals and EMS throughout Fairfield County as well as the additional facilities that continue to reach out to us (Jewish Senior Services, Silver Hill, St. Vincent’s Behavioral Health).  The need is so great and realistically we have between 4-5 weeks until the hospitals see a noticeable decline in patients.  We would need an additional $100K to be able to meet this goal and continue to support our local restaurants and health care workers.
Stephanie: I was thrilled to use CTbites as a platform to spread the word and drive donations for FFFL. We branded the initiative and launched an aggressive campaign across social media platforms to raise money. We were early to action, but we continue to need funds to keep FFFL going. The healthcare workers and restaurants still need our help!

What has this effort shown you about the Westport/Fairfield County community especially during challenging times? 

Nicole: I am blown away by the generosity of the Westport/Fairfield County community.  Not only are people regularly donating funds, they are emailing and messaging me on a daily basis to let us know they support our work and asking what else they can do.  It really keeps me going. I also get messages from local restaurant owners and nurses thanking us for the support.

Stephanie: I’m blown away by this community’s desire to support the effort in any way possible. From the day we launched, people of all ages were volunteering to deliver meals, make masks for the chefs, and donate funds. The community has rallied behind us and kept us going. Their kindness is what has kept us going.

Your efforts are truly heroic. Do you have a story or anecdote from this effort you can share that might help people better understand the gravity of what’s going on out there and the value of what Food for the Front Lines can do?

Nicole: I speak to hospitals and facilities on a daily basis and am told that the meals not only provide nourishment to the staff, but provide a real morale booster to the staff, many of whom are working multiple shifts a day for days on end. I recently got a call from a local mental health facility who said that they would really appreciate anything we can deliver.  She said so many people are focused on the hospitals, but the health care workers in the other facilities are feeling the same amounts of stress and anxiety during these times. I got a call from another hospital who asked if I could buy 60 cases of water for their staff as their cafeteria was closed and many of the nurses weren’t even stopping to drink water and many of the nurses were dehydrated!  I also got a message from a restaurant owner who said she was able to make payroll because of the large quantity of meals we bought from her.  

Stephanie: I received a message from a restaurant a few weeks after the state shut them down, begging to be a part of FFFL. They were still open for deliveries but were about to close permanently as they simply weren’t bringing in enough money to stay in business. This was a family run business, and this meant the family would simply be out of work. We moved them to the front of the list immediately and gave them a large delivery, roughly 300 meals to be delivered to Bridgeport Hospital…and we tipped BIG! This cash infusion allowed them to stay afloat and they continue to be open for business. This is why we do this. 

Finally, what is the one thing you are more excited to do when all of this ends?

Nicole: We are actually moving back to California this summer. My husband and I are both from CA and both of our girls will be in college there.  I am looking forward to taking lots of long walks in the Redwood forest.
Stephanie: When this slows down, I’m going to do a restaurant crawl and eat at every restaurant up the CT coast. I miss my chefs.

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