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Poland's idle restaurants send free food to medical 'heroes'

Virus Outbreak One Good Thing Poland
Posted at 1:46 AM, Mar 22, 2020

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — A popular Warsaw entertainment center looks empty and closed amid a government ordered shutdown from the coronavirus, but inside, cook Bozena Legowska is busy.

One hot pizza after another is lifted out of the oven, boxed and whisked to a nearby hospital for a hungry staff of doctors who are working harder than ever under the pressure of the spreading virus.

The pizza boxes are inscribed with upbeat messages, including, “You are our heroes.”

The Ale Zebra center in northern Warsaw has joined a growing nationwide network of restaurants and eateries showing their appreciation for the doctors, nurses and other medical professionals by bringing them free meals.

Last week, the government imposed a “national quarantine” that closed schools, universities, restaurants and culture centers, asking everyone to stay home if possible. But that order doesn't apply to health care workers, who face a time of incessant, intensified effort. A nation of 38 million, Poland has 378 confirmed cases of coronavirus infections. Five of the patients have died.

While restaurants are closed to the public to try to keep the virus from spreading, they can still do takeout orders and deliveries.

That has prompted #gastropomaga — “Gastronomy is helping” — and similar actions on social media to alleviate at least some of the worries for hospital workers who have no time to get a tasty meal.

“At least the doctors don't go hungry or worry where and how to get food,” said Iwona Sobczak, a secretary at the rescue ward of the Bielany Hospital, as she came out into the parking lot to collect the 10 offered pizzas. While those infected with the coronavirus are being treated at another facility, the Bielany Hospital is under greater pressure than usual as other patients are transferred there.

Other messages on the pizza boxes for the doctors read: “We are with you” and “Zebra is helping.”

Maciej Kolacinski, the host-manager at Ale Zebra, said the “feeling of joy one has when doing something good for the others is hard to describe.”

His usually bustling Ale Zebra club caters to all ages with its pizza parlor that can host a party for 120 people, and features laser tag, billiards, slot machines and even an “Escape Room” where players are locked in and must hunt for clues to try to find a way out.

It's all empty and quiet now. Hand disinfectants are next to a wash basin and on the counter. A customer collects his order of two pizzas through a small window from the outside and pays with a touch card.

“Our financial situation is not a comfortable one," Kolacinski said. "We are making no money, but this is true for every one now. We are trying to do something positive.”

On March 11, the government announced a “shield program” worth 212 billion zlotys ($52 billion; 47 billion euros) for businesses hit by the pandemic. The bailout includes state contributions to wages, postponement of social insurance payments and an injection of cash for infrastructure and education investments.

The “meals for medics” campaign has been joined by many others in Warsaw.

The Indian Taste restaurant is among those delivering food to the contagious diseases hospital on Wolska street, where coronavirus patients are treated.

One of the deliverymen wearing a scarf across his face carried a container of spicy food with lots of garlic and ginger.

“I live nearby. Maybe I also catch the virus and I will have to be hospitalized here,” he told the independent news portal in a video interview.

The campaign to provide free food for medics began last week in the eastern city of Bialystok and has spread nationwide.

Magdalena Rothe, owner of the Futu Sushi bar in Bialystok, was among the first to call hospitals to ask how she can help. Now a group of restaurants and bakeries have organized a schedule of deliveries to hospitals to avoid overlapping.

“We will not feed the entire hospital, but those 15 meals will allow the doctors to sit down for a while and eat something," Rothe told The Associated Press by phone. "It is a spontaneous gesture of thanks for their very stressful work these days."

In other acts of social solidarity during an uncertain time in Poland, people are posting notices for elderly neighbors, offering to go shopping or walk their dogs so the vulnerable can stay home and isolate themselves from infection.

An ambulance station that is on the front line of the virus crisis was another recipient of the free pizzas from Ale Zebra.

Paramedic Jozef Grygo took to social media to thank them, saying a “full rescuer is a good rescuer."


While nonstop global news about the effects of the coronavirus have become commonplace, so, too, are the stories about the kindness of strangers and individuals who have sacrificed for others. "One Good Thing" is an AP continuing series reflecting these acts of kindness.


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