Upper East Side mom helps feed health workers on front lines of coronavirus fight

New York City’s restaurants may be hanging on by a thread, but they’re still feeding area health-care workers with the help of one Upper East Side mom.

Gabrielle Armour, a non-practicing lawyer with three kids, was on lockdown with the rest of the city on her 50th birthday when she decided to ask her Facebook pals to donate money to help feed hospital workers in honor of her big day.

At first, just a handful of her 600-plus friends donated. But after she posted her first thank-you note — from a nurse in a COVID-19 ICU unit at NYU Hospital — the donations started rolling in.

By April 3, just 10 days later, Armour had raised more than $4,900 on Facebook, including $400 she donated herself. Together, they have fed more than 600 people on the front lines of the Empire State’s coronavirus outbreak.

“My birthday was the second day of stay-in shelter. I couldn’t walk through Central Park. My kids weren’t in school. Our world was changing. We didn’t know what was happening, but we were OK,” Armour said. “Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I thought, we aren’t hit hard. It’s the people in the hospitals. Let’s do something to help them and not think about ourselves.”

After receiving her first round of donations, Armour scrolled through her Instagram account in search of hungry hospital workers until she discovered that someone she followed was an NYU nurse.

“We had never spoken. I didn’t even know her name, I just knew her as a gluten-free foodie. But I saw she was a nurse, so I messaged her. I said that my friends and I were sending food deliveries to hospitals for my birthday and would she be interested in receiving. She responded yes,” Armour said.

Nicole Urban — the same NYU Hospital nurse who later sent Armour a thank-you note — requested Chipotle for herself and roughly two dozen of her co-workers, followed by a similarly sized order from Zucker’s Bagels.

“Feeding them gave my 50th birthday some purpose at a time we felt so helpless,” Armour said.

Since then, she has donated pizzas to Sloan Kettering and Mount Sinai East; Lena’s Italian Kitchen and Zucker’s Bagels to NYU; Pappardelle to Mount Sinai West and Kesté Pizza to NY’s Columbia Presbyterian. She still finds health-care workers to feed through social media, but has also started taking requests from friends and family who know someone on the front line.

Rachael Blaire, a physician’s assistant at Mount Sinai West, says she was in the midst of a gruelling 24-hour shift when Armour sent her and her co-workers food from Pappardella, an Italian eatery on the Upper West Side, on Thursday night.

“I was blown away,” Blaire said. “At least 30 people enjoyed the dinner — and it was so good. Everyone was raving about it and very grateful and appreciative. I hope people see that the restaurants are also struggling and that giving donations also helps them.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said there is no evidence that the coronavirus can be transmitted through food.

But sit-down dining has been banned in several states, including New York, to reduce the risk of exposure through people, plates and utensils.

Despite the restaurant industry’s woes, some eatery owners have been going out of their way to help, Armour said. When she first ordered from Kesté Pizza, for example, she only had $280 — enough to order around 15 pizzas. So Roberto Caporuscio, Kesté’s owner and pizzaiolo, added 85 pizzas free of charge for a total of 100 pizzas.

“I was so moved, I had tears rolling down my face,” Armour said.

For Caporuscio, the decision was simple. “For me, it is very important to give to the hospitals. They are the heroes. I’m Italian,” Caporuscio said, adding that his fellow Italians in the food industry have also been donating their time and goods, from flowers to cheese and tomatoes.

“We just want to help,” Caporuscio said. “If we can help people risking their lives at the hospitals, I am able to sleep better at night.”

Caporuscio has let go of around 15 people since the pandemic hit, but has been able to keep on 35 employees — and most, he says, are still working full-time.

“Delivering food is something I can do,” he said. “We do our own delivery, wearing masks and gloves. We are very careful. I drive the car. The nurses come outside to pick up the food. I can’t complain. At least I have work for my employees.”

Filed under 4/5/20