As first responders and health-care professionals at area hospitals continue to fight COVID-19, local residents are doing their part to support them—and keep them well fed.

As part of 19th Ward Ald. Matt O’Shea’s GoFundMe online fundraiser to provide meals for those on the front lines fighting a disease that has killed thousands of people around the world, the staff at Advocate Christ Medical Center (ACMC) received free breakfasts from The Original Pancake House-Beverly on March 25.

ACMC Medical Director of Disaster Medicine and Preparedness Dr. Liz Regan said the meals are a “huge asset” to staff and give them one less thing to worry about.

“It really helps our front-line staff. It kind of gives them a little bit of a boost and keeps them going,” Regan said, “because they are working tirelessly, and they are truly the heroes on the front line. … These days have a lot of ups and downs, but this is always an up.”

ACMC officials said there have been multiple cases of COVID-19 at the hospital, and they are awaiting test results for other patients.

The hospital has one of the busiest emergency rooms in the Chicago area, and Regan, who is an emergency department physician and leads the hospital’s effort against COVID-19, said ACMC is well prepared.

Staff members are “stepping up and meeting that challenge,” she said.

Concerns have arisen nationwide about health-care professionals’ access to personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face masks, but ACMC employees are efficiently using theirs.

“PPE and protective gear is always a concern,” Regan said. “Right now, we’re kind of holding our own. I think it’s been a good response, but obviously that’s a fear in the background. But, our staff are being very judicious with their gear and knowing how to use it. They’re not wasteful. There’s no waste of anything.”

She also said the hospital is well stocked with ventilators.

O’Shea joined state representatives Kelly Burke and Fran Hurley, as well as state Sen. Bill Cunningham, in delivering the meals. They were all screened for the virus upon entering the hospital.

ACMC President Richard Heim said the hospital is closed to visitors, which is a “painful” policy to enforce, but he is grateful for the support.

“We’ve had an outpouring of community members, legislators and local officials who have come forward and said, ‘How can we help you?’” Heim said. “We are absolutely working with them every day to make sure they are able to help us where they can.”

Proceeds from the fundraiser also help businesses provide weekly meals to staff at OSF HealthCare Little Company of Mary Medical Center, as well as first responders at local police stations and fire stations. As of press time, about $40,000 had been raised, already topping the initial goal of $35,000.

O’Shea also teamed up with The Original Pancake House to deliver free breakfasts to senior citizens in late March.

“We just wanted to do our small part,” O’Shea said. “We’re so proud of the Southwest Side banding together to try to do something, and providing meals is something we feel we can do to help. We’re just hoping other people will want to get involved with this.”

Burke said supporting the ACMC staff hits close to home.

“I’m so appreciative of them,” she said. “A lot of local people work at this hospital as well, so a lot of the folks who are on the front lines here are our friends and neighbors. Just making sure that they’re fed and they’re taken care of as they take care of the rest of the community is really important to us.”

Cunningham said that, during the coronavirus crisis, his office has received calls from people not asking what the government can do for them, but how they could help others.

He said he is proud of how people have “pitched in” for the fundraiser, and he was impressed by meeting the ACMC staff who will benefit from local compassion.

“I didn’t see anyone in there who was afraid of the challenges that they’re facing,” Cunningham said. “I think that’s encouraging—and it’s not surprising either.”

The fundraiser also provided three meals to 22nd District police officers on March 27.

Beyond Catering, of Berwyn, served breakfast, and Buona Beef handled lunch and dinner.

According to 22nd District Commander Sean Joyce, about 160 officers on that day benefited from the effort.

“The city appreciates the support shown by the community to us,” Joyce said, “helping us work through challenging times.”

As of press time on March 30, over 20 Chicago police officers had been diagnosed with COVID-19.

Joyce said local officers are practicing social distancing and have received PPE kits.

Chicago Fraternal Order of Police President Kevin Graham served local officers breakfast.

He said he hopes restaurants in every district can donate meals, especially for officers who work midnight shifts, when few businesses are open.

He also said he has taken steps to keep working conditions safe for officers, requesting Mayor Lori Lightfoot limit access to district lobbies.

He commended the work of police officers.

“Their focus has been to try and make sure that the people of the city of Chicago are safe,” Graham said, “and I think they’ve done an outstanding job.”

As of press time, about 4,600 people in Illinois had been diagnosed with the virus, and 65 had died—including an infant.

In the U.S., over 139,700 people had been diagnosed, with over 2,400 deaths.

On March 26, Mayor Lori Lightfoot closed the lakefront, adjacent parks, the riverwalk and the 606 Trail, which is on the North Side, to stem large crowds from gathering.

O’Shea said community members have reached out asking what they can do.

During such uncertain times, he said, the fundraiser won’t end any time soon.

“Everybody wants to do something to help, and we just think it’s important that our front-line medical workers and our first responders, police and fire, that we show them some sign of appreciation,” O’Shea said. “We’ll do this as long as we’re in this crisis.”

To support the fundraiser, call O’Shea’s office at (773) 238-8766 or visit the website at gofundme.com.