When employees at El Camino Health hospitals began working long, exhausting hours during the COVID-19 pandemic, the nutritional services team wanted to help ease the burden. Brandi, RDN, director of nutritional services, recognized that going to the grocery store after working a long shift wasn’t something anyone wanted to do. Especially when everyone living in the area and across the country was experiencing the same thing…going to the store only to find empty shelves and then going online to find that paper and sanitizing products were also not available. Brandi and the entire nutrition services team felt compelled to find a way to help their fellow co-workers and decided to sell basic essential grocery items in the cafeterias in Los Gatos and Mountain View.
“Essential items we take for granted like toilet paper, paper towel, milk and eggs that were always so accessible are no longer easy to purchase," explained Brandi. "I started asking people if they would be interested in purchasing these types of staples in the cafeteria if we made them available. Initially there was some interest, but then a nurse from the emergency room reached out asking if we had any staple grocery items to sell and I thought this is a good time to trial something. We started reaching out to vendors to see what we could get our hands on and pretty soon, we had some produce, milk and eggs to sell. We sold 15 dozen eggs in the Los Gatos cafeteria within two hours of putting them out!”
People often come in to buy potatoes, onions, zucchini, fruit and whatever else the cafeteria team acquires within minutes of an email notification going out to managers to let them know what is available. One doctor told Brandi “this is a game changer for me. I’m tired after a 10-hour shift and the last thing I want to do is go to the grocery store after working.”
With the precautionary visitor restrictions in place at the hospitals due to COVID-19 pandemic, hospital staff and doctors are the only patrons in the cafeterias ensuring that essential workers have safe and convenient shopping experience with guaranteed access to the basic items they need. Employees and doctors know the hospital is safe because everyone entering the building has their temperature taken and if they are here working, they are symptom free. There are hand sanitizer stations located throughout the hospital, employees wearing masks, and there are social distancing markers in the cafeteria to keep people apart. The items being sold are mostly packaged so there is no contact on the edible surface. Disposable shopping bags help to keep everything sanitary and easy to carry. Shoppers are allowed limited toilet paper and paper towel to give everyone an opportunity to make a purchase.
“We were aware that prices on paper products are also getting costly, so we made sure that our prices were extremely competitive and in most cases, a lot less than what you would find at the store. For instance, we sell toilet paper for $1 per roll, paper towel is $1.50 per roll, and produce is sold at pennies on the dollar,” says Brandi.
The nutrition services team has embraced the idea and is pleased to see people shopping and to hear their positive comments. Everyone from the chef to the cashiers and servers have contributed in some way, either packaging the food, selecting items, or helping display the products. The entire team has joined the effort and the response is overwhelming. Comments like “This is so awesome! It’s cleaner here than at the grocery store and I don’t have to wait in line” and “Thank you, this is a great service to our employees and is making my life easier” are heard almost daily.