The expression “win-win situation” was never better defined than by a public participation project underway in Chagrin Falls. Participants call it Code Orange and Black or COB for short.

In this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, the project is poised to deliver more than 1,000 meals to area frontline hospital staffers purchased from Chagrin Falls’ financially hard-hit restaurants. Funds have been donated by generous bystanders through COB on the GoFundMe crowdfunding website.

All of this was the idea of Chagrin Falls resident Gwen McCuaig who with her husband Todd looked for a way to help but was initially stymied by just how to do it.

As Ms. McCuaig recalled, it was mid-March when she received a text from a family member who shared what she describes as a “visceral” text message from a New York City colleague and emergency department doctor.

“He described his situation as a war zone, codes were being called constantly, the staff was sick or exhausted, personal protective equipment [PPE] was nowhere to be found and they needed food to support the staff,” she said.

At the same time, she and her husband were trying to find some way to help when one business contact from University Hospitals of Cleveland asked for help in locating PPE.

“While we were exploring the possibility of producing face shields at his manufacturing company, another local business stepped in and answered that call,” Ms. McCuaig said.

Meanwhile the “frontlines” were still struggling and Cleveland had not reached its COVID19 peak. State of Ohio updates and health protocols for hand washing, social distancing and orders to stay at home coming every day.

Chagrin Falls’ restaurants shuttered their dining rooms and those that could manage fired up their kitchens and rebooted their service to provide home delivery and fill curbside pick-up orders.

Winning idea

“I was talking with owners of our local eateries, specifically Jimmy Linhart from Lemon Falls and heard a lot of worry about long-term impact of COVID-19 would on their business and got concerned about what that effect would have on the village I love,” Ms. McCuaig said.

With hospital workers still in need and restaurant in need of customers got her thinking about how “we could help on both fronts,” as she put it.

The answer was simple, hospital workers needed food to sustain their minds and bodies and the restaurants needed customers to sustain their bottom line. But how could she connect the two needs?

“I asked friend and long-time Chagrin Falls resident Dr. Brad Borden [an emergency medicine physician and chairman of the Emergency Services Institute at Cleveland Clinic] what he thought about the idea of delivering meals to the ER and could we do it with all the new restrictions and protocols in place?”

The answer was positive, Ms. McCuaig said. Dr. Borden’s support for her idea and a green light from the Clinic’s Hillcrest Hospital pushed her forward.

“I wore my emergency department hat and said absolutely this was a great idea but wanted to make sure we didn’t have any policies against receiving outside food during our pandemic,” Dr. Borden said.

“The day I received approval from Brad, I created a campaign on the GoFundMe website,” Ms. McCuaig said. “I created COB asking for funds to purchase meals from our local eateries to be delivered to front-line hospital workers.”

By the numbers

She set the first campaign goal at $1,800 and sent the campaign link to 15 friends, asking them to share it with five or six of their friends.

“If we each donated $20, we could purchase 100 meals, Ms. McCuaig recalled thinking. “Within three hours, donations surpassed the goal and within 48 hours the Chagrin Falls community donated nearly $10,000.”

Meals are valued at $18 each. As of early this week, the community raised $15,560. To date, COB has supported Lemon Falls, Aurelia, Two Café, Heartwood, Cibo and Paris Room.

Ms. McCuaig noted that once word got around, several donors asked if they could help deliver the meals. To date 10 folks have done the restaurant pick-ups and hospital deliveries during both afternoon and evening shifts.

Then a baker, who wishes to remain anonymous, began donating Spring-themed decorated cut-out cookies for each delivery with the initial batches adding up to 150 cookies each week. The sweets have been a hit with hospital staffers since deliveries began April 2.

The first delivery was to Hillcrest Hospital, the Cleveland Clinic Foundation’s COVID-19 satellite hospital and added other COVID-19 hospitals including University Hospitals of Cleveland main campus, the MetroHealth Medical Center Emergency Department, the clinic’s Marymount Hospital and the clinic’s main campus.

“On average, we deliver four days a week, sometimes two in one day at lunch as well as dinner to serve day and night shifts,” Ms. McCuaig said. “About 50 lunches for the day shifts and 40 dinners for the evening shifts.”

The COB campaign is an “all in the family” venture for the McCuaig’s from a helpful and supportive husband to son Evan, an EMT and college student with aspirations for a career in the medical field.

For now, his mother confides his skills include being “our go to delivery driver.”

From the front

Dr. Borden said of the project, “Chagrin Falls has always been a special place,  so I was not surprised at the response from the community.  Supporting our healthcare workers while also supporting our local restaurants is a win for both.”

They have not gone unappreciated, according to Dr. Borden of the simple gifts of food to staffers.

“When people recognize their work they are very moved by these kind gestures. While we fortunately do not have anywhere near the conditions our New York colleagues are facing, our healthcare workers are naturally anxious and concerned about their own health and that of their families. “

While the hospital organization is committed to keeping every employee safe and healthy, it is the human touch that raises spirits.

“When the food arrives, the staff takes turns covering for one another, so everyone gets a chance to enjoy,” he said. “  

From Chagrin with love

Win-Wins are nothing without the people who link those two words. In this case it is COB’s volunteer delivery drivers.

Mary Jo Weber made her delivery on April 9 to the Hillcrest Hospital emergency department. On that trip, it was Aurelia and Heartwood donating 50 servings of soup and lunches.

On that same trip she delivered the anonymous cookie maker’s famous Easter decorated sugar cookies. These went to the intensive care unit’s staffers caring for COVID-19 patients.

Mrs. Weber said the one thing that stands out in her memory was an experience she had at Aurelia and the woman who helped make the lunches and load the car.

“She said that she was sorry she didn’t have time on this delivery to write a personal message on each lunch bag. She had done that for a previous delivery, Mrs. Weber said. “I was so touched to hear that and can only imagine how much those notes must have meant to the recipients.”

Mary Beth Webster and her husband Dave Maistros delivered pasta dinners from Cibo and those special cookies from the anonymous baker. Their destination was Marymount Hospital’s Emergency Department.

“Workers at CIBO loaded the food bags into my car and at the hospital two nurses and a doctor unloaded it,” she said. “They were so grateful for the food and the recognition. Just a few words passed between us but at the end we were all teary eyed.”

Why code words

Ms. McCuaig said the name Code Orange and Black came from growing up in Chagrin Falls.

“I grew up in the village when the friendly shop and restaurant owners knew your name and all about your family. The village was an extension of our neighborhood.”

After moving away and getting married, she convinced her Canadian husband to move to Chagrin Falls to raise our family. “We have spent over 25 years here as part of a fantastic community that comes together time and time again in crisis and in celebration.”

Overall, Ms. McCuaig and COB volunteers expect to deliver more than 1,000 meals when all is said and done. But when is “done”? There is no end date published on COB’s GoFundMe page.

“We will continue until the funds run dry,” she concluded. Visit https://www.gofundme.com/f/code-orange-and-black to donate.

A veteran reporter and columnist, Barbara Christian has been covering Chagrin Falls since 1967 and is currently responsible for Chagrin Falls village events, government and school board news along with her weekly column "Window on Main Street."

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