LIVINGSTON, NJ — In an effort to assist both local businesses and local healthcare professionals during the global health crisis, Livingston resident Sejal Lakhani-Bhatt has devised a plan to feed the hungry and weary employees at Saint Barnabas Medical Center (SBMC) while also stimulating the sales of local restaurants during the quarantine.

As the owner of a small information technology (IT) company called “TechWerxe,” Bhatt is one of the many business owners currently feeling the repercussions of the quarantine. But as the sister-in-law of an emergency room doctor, she’s also well aware of the pressures and “hardships that the healthcare community has been facing.”

“Over the last couple of weeks, I have seen first-hand the effect this pandemic is having on my community both financially and personally,” said Bhatt. “I knew I had to do something to help.”

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Taking to community Facebook pages, Bhatt posted about her ideas and inquired whether Livingston restaurants would be interested in partnering to feed the doctors and nurses working tirelessly to save lives.

“I wanted to do something that would help small businesses, healthcare workers and the local residents of this community,” she said. “That’s how the food-delivery project began.”

Bhatt reported that several restaurants were enthusiastic about the idea and even offered special prices, enabling Bhatt to “funnel money back to our local businesses while helping workers in the hospitals who are helping our community diligently every day.”

After receiving a great deal of positive feedback online, Bhatt got in touch with Stephen Zieniewicz, president and chief executive officer of SBMC, who immediately approved her proposal. She then worked closely with Margie Heller, Vice President of Community Health and Strategic Global Partnerships at RWJBarnabas Health, to strategize the best way to set up food deliveries.

The food orders, paid for through donations from Livingston residents, have resulted in $20,000 worth of sales for local businesses. According to Bhatt, those sales have assisted in feeding the 320 employees—or two shifts of 160 people—who are currently handling COVID-19 patients at SBMC.

Bhatt credits fellow resident Samantha Schettino-Linksy for helping with the logistics, such as securing donations and making calls to the restaurants.

She explained that Linsky had organized a similar arrangement in the fall to send food to Livingston High School (LHS) teachers and Livingston police officers when they were attempting to remedy the cyber attack. Linsky also helped make calls to local restaurants and set up donations.

According to Bhatt, about 200 people have contributed to the cause as of Thursday morning.

“I am still astounded at the outpour of support from not only my community, but the surrounding areas as well,” said Bhatt, who also volunteers for cancer organizations such as St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and with groups that help victims of human trafficking. “It is amazing how much everyone in our community is rallying together to make this project happen.”

Food is now being delivered to the hospital twice a day, with the drop-offs being carefully coordinated to ensure that meals are delivered directly to the employees without interrupting their routine.

Although most of the participating restaurants are able to prepare food for about 50 people at a time, Bhatt said that efforts are being made to ensure that the restaurants aren’t being overwhelmed by orders.

The following restaurants are currently participating in the project:

  • Anthony Marra's Restaurant & Pizzeria
  • Argyle Marketplace
  • Calabria Pizzeria & Restaurant
  • Cocco Bello Café
  • Ike’s Bagel Café
  • Pizzeta Enoteca
  • Tony Boys Sandwich House
  • Turano’s Pizza Kitchen
  • Two Men and an Appetite

Restaurants looking to participate are encouraged to contact Bhatt at slakhani@techwerxe.com. Residents looking to donate toward food deliveries can do so through Venmo (@sejallb) or PayPal (paypal.me/samlinsky).