VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - So many people across the country are on the front lines, fighting the coronavirus.
While doctors and nurses are focusing on saving lives, the Hampton Roads community is focusing on keeping them fed.
Throughout the week, Operation Smile is partnering with local restaurants to bring warm meals to hospitals. The initiative is called Serving Smiles and its mission is three-fold: bring much-needed business to restaurants, show support and appreciation to health care workers on the front line of the COVID-19 pandemic, and empower students to give back during a time of dire need.
Each day starts at a participating restaurant where the staff cooks up a delicious meal. Students with Operation Smile help sort and bag the meals and deliver them to a nearby hospital.
"The fact that we're all coming together to work together as an organization but also all these different businesses really goes to show what Virginia Beach is all about," says Abigail Hendrickson, a student working with Operation Smile.
On Wednesday, teams of students delivered almost 200 lunches to Sentara Leigh, Norfolk General, Sentara Princess Anne and Sentara Obici. News 3 reporter Erin Miller followed along as the Neighborhood Harvest, with help from La Bella Italia, prepared the lasagna, meatballs and salad.
The 60 meals were then packed up and transported to Sentara Leigh Hospital. The staff was overwhelmed with appreciation.
Jennifer Kreiser, the Vice President Patient Care Services and Nurse Executive says, "being able to take a break and walk into your lounge and have something to eat and drink means everything. Everyone makes a difference and every little act is huge."
Kreiser says at Sentara Leigh they have been keeping a tally of who gets a meal each day. They want to make sure that the love is spread to everyone at the hospital. Everyone from the doctors and physicians to techs and cleaning staff will have an opportunity to enjoy a restaurant-style meal.
By the end of the week students are expected to pass out over 1,000 meals.
During each delivery, which takes place outside of the hospitals, students practice social distancing and wear personal protective equipment to ensure that the donations are made with safety of everyone involved as the top priority.
The pilot program got underway in the Hampton Roads, Virginia, region earlier this month and has expanded to New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas and California. In New York, lunch meals will be delivered to Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan and Mt. Sinai Elmhurst Hospital in Queens.
Serving Smiles runs off of donations so if you would like to help, click here.