coronavirus illinois

Feeding the Front Line: A Healthy ‘Thank You' to Hundreds of Medical Workers

How a Forest Park business pivoted from its own losses to helping hospital workers and other first responders

NBCUniversal, Inc.

On a street in Forest Park, well known for its revelry, Madison Street is eerily empty. There is some hustle and bustle, though, inside the Urban Pioneer Group event venue.

UPG’s atmosphere is decidedly different than its normal one, which is typically filled with parties, weddings and other celebrations, but its new iteration is still life-affirming.

“We had to shut down the space in support of the efforts to stop COVID-19. Obviously, no one is having events right now,” UPG founder Tom Kunkel told NBC 5. “But we’ve got a new kitchen, a certified kitchen.”

That new kitchen led to Kunkel’s lightbulb moment, away from the business closure and toward opening up his UPG kitchen to feed medical workers.

That's how “Meals 2 Medics” was born.

The goal is to bring donations of healthy food and get it safely inside hospitals, so medical workers can easily grab healthy food during their often-grueling shifts.

“We basically devoted our kitchen for ‘Meals 2 Medics,’" Kunkel said. “So in a sense we're trying to make sure that the medical professionals that are working 12-hour shifts are fueled with healthy snacks.”

When he put out the call for donations, Kunkel said the answers came fast, from sponsors including Pete’s Fresh Market, Turano Bakery, Farmington Foods and many more.

Their donations have already fueled more than 1,000 medical personnel per week in the first two weeks of its mission, at various hospitals in and around Chicago.

More than just food showed up for the effort.

"I was getting ready to pretty close to losing my mind with this quarantine," project manager Claudia Strong told NBC 5. "No matter how many hours I've been in here, it's so rewarding. I am the wife of a first responder myself so while he's doing his part, every day in and out, you know, I'm doing my part."

Meals 2 Medics said it packs all snacks to hospital specifications and is planning to soon add more hospitals, police and fire departments to its list of drop-off spots.

If you’d like to know more on how you can help Meals 2 Medics, their website can be found here.

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