Brooklyn hospital workers are spending every day fighting the coronavirus pandemic. “It’s a warzone… It’s brutal. It’s mentally and physically exhausting,” said Cora O’Regan, an emergency room (ER) nurse at NYU Langone Hospital’s Brooklyn branch. “There’s an emotional element of this that’s unmatched. We’re seeing the sickest patients in the world right now, and it’s hard.”
For medical workers facing the hellish realities of hospital life, services like the community-funded coffee delivery from Bay Ridge’s Blend Coffee provide a much-needed respite.
“It’s like going through a rainstorm for days and days and days, and then the sun finally peaks just because someone thought of you and wanted to bring you a coffee,” said O’Regan.
His brother gave him the idea to start donating coffee to hospital staff. Mattera made a Facebook post on Wednesday, March 25 at 9:43 a.m. By 1 p.m. he had so many donations that he was able to make his first delivery of 70 coffees to NYU Langone Brooklyn in Sunset Park.
“Our church was already serving the neighborhood in different ways — doing grocery runs and praying for people who needed it,” said Mattera. “We’ve been trying to think about how we can serve people.”
Samantha Hernandez, a medical clerk in the ER at NYU Langone Brooklyn, says that this is a meaningful service for staff at the hospital. “Getting that break room full of coffee is saving nurses who can’t change out of their personal protective equipment (PPE) to run to a coffee shop,” said Hernandez. “It’s service like no other.”
Nurses are working 12-hour shifts in the ER, O’Regan told us. Six of those hours are spent in the COVID unit, an area she describes as an “airborne open space.” The PPE that hospital staff wear for protection includes an N95 respirator, which makes eating or drinking impossible, and a full-body gown, which means no bathroom breaks.
The virus is taking a mental, as well as physical toll on health workers.
“Not only are we worried about what goes on at work, we are worried about what we are bringing home to our families,” said Hernandez. “It is no secret that protective equipment is scarce these days, but going home and possibly getting a loved one sick is exhausting.”
“As little as they may seem, we can’t thank people enough for how happy we are by just doing this,” said O’Regan. “I don’t have access to my kitchen right now, because I live with my family and I’m completely self-isolated. Like I don’t have the capacity to make my own meals anymore so yesterday just like having someone bring me a meal, it was like oh this is such a relief. Having someone bring us a coffee, I’m a huge coffee drinker, so it actually made my day. Blend coming in there changed my whole mood.”
Blend, like many coffee shops, has been struggling with the consequences of the pandemic. The four staff who work for Mattera were in jeopardy of losing their jobs. With enough donations, these deliveries might keep them employed, Mattera said. No one has had to scale back their hours yet, and Mattera is planning on expanding his deliveries. He says he got a text from one of the nurses saying the night-shift felt left out. The community has provided a steady stream of donations, so Thursday, March 26, he made an extra delivery in the evening.
If the donations continue, he hopes to deliver to other hospitals, nursing homes, and grocery stores as well. With his employees from the shop ready to brew coffee and volunteers from the church ready to make deliveries, the operation has a lot of room to grow.
He sees this crisis as a time to act like a Christian. “One of the biggest Christian ethics, historically, is in times of crisis how do we help?” said Mattera. “You talk about these things, but when it actually happens you get to see the reality of your faith and what you really believe in.”
O’Regan says that this crisis has brought out aspects of people she hadn’t seen before. “It shows us a different side of humanity that was almost lacking before COVID,” said O’Regan. “This has, in a way, caused people to step back and start doing things that we could have been doing before but didn’t.”
Whether or not Mattera gets to expand his operation, the deliveries made so far have already profoundly impacted the staff at the hospital. “It was the only smile that came across my face all day,” said O’Regan. “It was sheer happiness.”
If you would like to donate you can send money to @blendbayridge on Venmo or @blendbayridge.com on Quickpay and Zelle. Make sure to include a message to send to the hospital staff!