Doctors, nurses and other Tucson Medical Center employees ran full bore as COVID-19 hospitalizations soared when stay-at-home orders were issued in March 2020.
“Spirits were at an all-time low and exhaustion at an all-time high for our employees,” Julia Strange, TMC’s vice president of community benefit, recalls of those early days of the pandemic.
On April 17, they were thanked by Doug Levy, his Feast restaurant employees and regular diners. Some 300 vacuum-packed meals featuring vegetable curry, beef bourguignon or chicken cacciatore appeared. “This form of recognition was so appreciated by our employees and a much-needed boost,” Strange says.
Levy keeps up the donated meal deliveries to this day and has expanded to other medical centers, first responders and nonprofit organizations serving Tucsonans in need. He’s pretty close to having delivered 10,000 meals. For that, Levy is recognized with the 2021 Outstanding Crisis Response & Recovery in Philanthropy award.
Shortly after he shut down then 20-yearold Feast on March 17, he learned that a former employee worked at TMC’s first COVID-19 ward and another friend worked in the emergency department. “We decided to send meals as a show of support for a lot of scared and overworked people,” he recalls.
With no money coming in, Levy couldn’t provide the meals on his own. He asked for donations from roughly 4,500 people on his email list. He sweetened the appeal by donating a fifth meal for every four donors paid for.
The response was big. Money left over from the first TMC delivery could pay for another 100 meals. Levy made another appeal and delivered 300 to local Banner hospitals. The cycle of asking, preparing and delivering eventually touched about 30 organizations, some of which now get regular deliveries.
The program kept almost all of Feast’s staff employed through shut-downs and reduced dining capacity. It also provided an outlet for people who want to help, but didn’t feel safe going out in public.
“We’ve had a number of guests tell us that they’re grateful to be able to help both the staff here at Feast and the community at large,” explains Levy.
The effort also helped Levy and the donors learn about nonprofit organizations like COPE Community Services, Youth on Their Own, Casa Alitas Program and Sister José Women’s Center. “I leave so many of our food deliveries with tears in my eyes at the generosity and kindness I see in our community,” he says.
Levy is no stranger to doing good works. For years he’s participated in Primavera Foundation’s Primavera Cooks! Fundraisers. He gives away gift certificates as incentives to donate to Arizona Public Media.
His voice cracks with emotion as he describes how, when praised for his COVID-19 response, he thinks of Pat Connors, who opened and ran Pastiche restaurant with his wife, Julie, until his 2017 death. Julie eventually sold the restaurant.
Levy discovered that the Connors donated to more than 300 local organizations. “One of the huge reasons people wanted to support Pastiche was they knew what Pat and Julie and Cole, their son, were doing for the community,” he says.
“He’s very much an inspiration to me,” he adds. “I keep in the back of my mind WWPCD — what would Pat Connors do?”