Feeding the Front Lines
During the novel coronavirus pandemic, Linda Bennett helps feed Children’s Hospital Los Angeles patients, as well as her tireless colleagues.
By Sara Nafie
It’s ironic that most days, Linda Bennett barely stops for lunch. A member of the catering staff at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, she is constantly on the move. Not long ago, her team served about 100 meals—on their busiest days—for meetings and events at CHLA, but since the novel coronavirus outbreak, that number has skyrocketed. Between meals prepared by the hospital’s food services staff, and food purchased by the hospital or donated by local restaurants, businesses and individuals, more than 7,000 free meals are provided to CHLA team members every day.
Bennett, who has been with CHLA for 13 years, plays a vital role in ensuring breakfast, lunch and dinner are available to every employee on duty at the hospital. On a recent afternoon, she took a few minutes out of her nonstop schedule to share what it’s like helping to nourish her colleagues on the front line.
Can you describe a typical day for you?
My hours are 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. As soon as I get in, I start working on the breakfast delivery to the Rodney Clinic. That’s where they are doing the [COVID-19] testing, so we provide food for the people who are doing the testing and all the staff over there. That delivery is as early as 7 a.m. because they arrive at 5:30. We also have our COVID-19 Command Center; the John Stauffer Conference Room where the general labor pool comes to pick up meals; and the wonderful childcare center that has been amazing caring for employees’ children.
These are all the places I deliver to daily, breakfast and lunch, and in the middle of that I’m helping out with offloading the big trucks that deliver all this wonderful food. And now we are serving snacks around 2 p.m. so I deliver those too. I definitely get my steps in—I got over 15,000 yesterday!
How many meals does CHLA serve a day?
We just completed serving 2,850 lunches. We served about 2,700 meals for breakfast, and now I’m going to start facilitating everything for the night shift. They will do about 720 meals for dinner. When donations come in specifically for our patients and families, we deliver those meals too.
You mentioned donated food. How do you manage all those deliveries?
We have donations coming in from anybody and everybody you could imagine. We try to schedule the deliveries, but when they come is when they come. Yesterday I had just delivered lunch when I got a text: “Hey, we got a last-minute delivery, it’s really important, can you go to the loading dock?” Of course, you just stop everything you’re doing. You should see our loading dock across from Vons. It’s one truck after another waiting to be unloaded. There’s just a lot that goes into the day.
You deliver meals to the COVID-19 Command Center, staffed by CHLA leadership and infection control experts planning hospital operations related to the pandemic. That’s a tremendous responsibility.
It’s just what I’m supposed to be doing. They can’t leave their post. When they come in each morning, you know, they need a little fuel, so I make sure they get their coffee. And I make sure that when anything is donated to the hospital, they get some of it. Everyone in the Command Center is so wonderful. It’s really an honor for me.
It’s remarkable you remain so upbeat and joyful during this demanding time. What’s your inspiration?
It’s just amazing to see the hearts pouring out for CHLA. Anything people can do to help, they are there. That’s why I love this place. That’s what gives me the energy to come back for another day.