The Mission: Reflections on Essential Work during COVID19

A blog post written by Yoni Elrich, Chef and Kitchen Manager

The first time I stepped out of my apartment in March to go to work during the pandemic, days after New York instituted a state-wide lockdown, was among the most surreal experiences of my life.

My wife, along with most of my friends and colleagues had been advised to work from home. We were told that the worst is yet to come. That New York is poised to be just as bad, if not worse, than Italy. A country the rest of the world had been watching in horror, as cases and deaths skyrocketed unabated.

There was no way to mentally prepare for it. A global pandemic is something civilization has not had to endure for several generations now. Relegated to third world countries and science fiction, the idea of a disease bringing society to its knees is not something most people ever imagined possible.

I knew that myself and all my coworkers would have to recalibrate our mentality moving forward. This would require a daunting level of resilience and intention. Thankfully, when I arrived at the Red Rabbit facility on that first day, I immediately felt relieved.

The day before, Red Rabbit’s CEO Rhys Powell convened a virtual meeting for the entire management team at Red Rabbit. He spoke calmly and confidently about how we, as an organization, were going to march ahead and do whatever was in our power to be on the frontlines of this crisis. The path remained very uncertain, but one thing was clear; this disaster had upended countless individuals and families all throughout the city overnight and we needed to figure out how we were going to help them. As a relatively newer member of the organization, I felt deeply inspired and motivated to do my part.

Next, Rhys addressed the elephant in the room; with limited guidance from both local and federal authorities. How were we going to make sure that our facility could remain safe, both for our employees and for the people we serve?

biscuitThe plan that Rhys laid out was robust. Not only would we rearrange the way people enter and exit the building, we planned to change the entire layout of both our kitchen area upstairs and our multiple prep stations downstairs in order to create an environment where we could maintain social distancing. Additionally, Red Rabbit planned to stock up on PPE equipment, including lab coats, masks, sleeve guards and even hazmat suits.

Those of us who were having more trouble dealing with the situation felt a wave of relief. As an essential worker in these historically precarious times, having some semblance of assurance felt necessary. I felt almost overwhelmed with pride. While things around us seemed to be coming apart at the seams, we decided to don the cape and run toward the problem.

intakeWhen I first arrived at the Red Rabbit facility the day after the meeting, it was immediately obvious that major changes had been made to the facility overnight. All employees were required to use the same entrance that fed into an intake room where one of our safety managers would take your temp, have you wash your hands, then make sure all personal items were sealed and stored, followed by donning a lab coat, mask, and sleeve guards before entering the main facility.

Instead of spending even one minute worrying for my safety, I could now focus on the task at hand. On a personal level, I had a lot of difficulty coping with the new reality we were all thrust into. This was back in mid-March. As I sit here typing this, we have produced over 1 million meals to communities that were desperately in need. This could not have happened without a tremendous effort from the facilities team here at Red Rabbit along with leadership from our senior management team. It allowed us to tackle the challenges that lay ahead, pivoting from our signature family style meal service to exclusively producing individuallly packaged meals, and from serving only kids meals to also serving adults and seniors. We were determined to do whatever we could do to meet the growing demand for fresh, hot and dignified meals.

yoniThe experience of being an essential worker at Red Rabbit has reminded me of the resiliency of the human spirit. When you have a group of people who are committed to doing something positive in their community, the possibilities are limitless. As an organization, we are ready to tackle whatever the future may hold for us with a renewed focus and expanded capabilities.

And despite the large scale reorganization of our operation, we have been able to implement key changes and improvements during this time. Our dishes have been elevated and offerings expanded to reflect the diversity of our many networks of schools. We have hired a talented baker to start making our own bread in house too, something we aspired to for many years but have taken this opportunity to pursue. I am proud to work at an organization that is committed to its mission and puts its best foot forward no matter what. As we navigate the next phases of the pandemic, and whatever challenges they may bring, I am confident that Red Rabbit will continue to exemplify what a truly socially conscious organization can achieve.

Check out how Red Rabbit is remaining COVID-safe for their team and partners!

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