PINEHURST, N.C. -- Much of the world shut down in March 2020. The same was true in the Sandhills of North Carolina, where the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic left many wondering about the risks of simply leaving home.
For some, the early days of the pandemic included a sense of being frozen in time. Staying put was the overwhelming guidance, and many took that to heart. Carrie Simmons was one of them. But Simmons was determined not to be a victim. She wanted to find ways that her family could help.
“I wanted us to be helpers in a tough situation instead of sitting at home feeling like victims, and I wanted my kids to do something positive,” she said recently, thinking back on the early days of “homeschooling” and a couple of failed attempts at mask sewing.
Simmons’ desire to chip in has become larger – and more impactful – than she could have ever imagined. After a call with a friend in another state, Simmons decided to start a local chapter of Feed the Fight to provide meals to health care workers battling the pandemic and support local restaurants battered by the shutdown.
"Meals to Medical,” as it came to be known soon after, has since raised about $22,000 to support local restaurants and delivered about 2,000 meals to local health care workers, many of them working at FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital and other FirstHealth clinics.
“The Meals to Medical program has done so much more than simply bring food to us,” said Karen Robeano, DNP, R.N., vice president of patient care services and chief nursing officer at FirstHealth. “These donations lift the spirits. It’s been a long year across our system as we respond to the pandemic, and this generosity inspires us all to keep going.”
More than 20 restaurants have helped prepare meals after receiving donations, with some of them even donating food directly to the effort.
“A dear friend and former colleague, Elena Tompkins, started Feed the Fight in Washington, D.C., and that was the model for Meals to Medical,” Simmons said. “We launched on March 24, and I could not have envisioned where things are today. Meals to Medical seemed to resonate with the community, and the restaurants were incredibly helpful and grateful. The medical workers we have delivered to have also been so very grateful. I have met so many generous, lovely people, so while my vision of a positive project did pan out, I definitely did not envision the journey we are all on.”
That journey has also included “meeting” others who had the same goal – just wanting to help. Simmons and three other volunteers, Mark Emmer, Regis Sholtis and Sam Clay, have become a well-oiled machine that gets donations to restaurants and meals in the hands of those taking care of us all during the pandemic.
Sholtis said he heard about the Washington, D.C. chapter and then learned soon after that Meals to Medical was starting in the Pinehurst area. “I called Carrie and asked her if she needed help delivering the meals, and she got me involved immediately,” Sholtis said. I am retired and I volunteer at the Police Department, and that didn’t interfere with the delivery of meals, so I signed up. I’m just trying to give back to the community.”
Emmer and Clay both read about Meals to Medical in a story in The Pilot Newspaper in April and reached out to Simmons about how they might help. Clay became her go-to logistics specialist, coordinating with restaurants that wanted to be involved and helping schedule and manage orders and drop-offs. Emmer and Sholtis were delivery drivers, visiting the restaurants and then shuttling food wherever it needed to go. Emmer, a retired Army officer who works on Fort Bragg but lives in nearby Whispering Pines, said he was a lot like Simmons when the pandemic started.
“At the time Fort Bragg pretty much shut down. I was at home and didn’t have much to do, so I was interested to help any way I could. I saw this in The Pilot last spring and was able to get in touch with Carrie. Major kudos to Carrie for initiating this program.”
Clay had time on his hands, too, but for slightly different reasons. “I retired in March 2020, which was a really good time to retire, and I was looking for volunteer opportunities,” he said. “I saw The Pilot story too and Carrie said she needed people to help, so I got in touch with her and went over what my skills were. I had spent a fair amount of time at Moore Regional Hospital getting a knee replaced, having shoulder surgery and heart treatment, so I had an affinity for the hospital.”
Clay said he’s also developed an affinity for all the local restaurants that have been involved.
“This effort made them feel that the community was there to support them too. They were very appreciative because of both the impact on their business and the fact that they could help people at the hospital,” he said.
In a weird but not wholly unexpected twist given how the pandemic has altered everyone’s lives, Simmons, Clay, Sholtis and Emmer have never met face to face despite their outstanding efforts.
“Sam, Mark and Regis are three of the greatest people I have ever met, even though I have not actually met them in person,” Simmons said. “They are always up for helping and always reaching out to me to see if I need support. I don’t think they realize how hard this would have been to pull off without their help.”
To learn more about Meals to Medical or to donate, visit their Facebook page.