In the era of the pandemic some dedicated film professionals move mountains to help hospital workers

With the coronavirus pandemic having effectively shuttered production in the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, some enterprising film industry veterans are redirecting the industry’s network and muscle to ensure that the populous area’s first responders are fed.

Hospital and EMS workers have been pulling incredibly long and taxing shifts amid the pandemic—-many are so overworked they don’t even have time for a meal. Many hospitals have closed down their cafeterias as it wasn’t possible to practice social distancing in such close quarters.

Andrew Saxe (pictured below), a line producer, production manager and locations manager based in Morristown, N.J., recalls becoming aware of a GoFundMe campaign started by his colleague Paul Brozen (pictured further below), who saw a way for food companies that traditionally feed production stuff to pivot to feed healthcare workers during the entertainment industry’s forced hiatus.

Andrew Saxe

“Restaurants in the area were also closing, so these hospital workers were not able to get food,” Saxe said. “[Brozen] called me up and [said] I bet there’s a catering truck or two since there are about 50 or 60 shows not” utilizing their services at present.

Saxe, who isn’t a stranger to juggling heavy logistics and many moving parts, made some calls to film catering companies he knew as well as solicited donations from everyone from friends to famous people he’d worked with before on shows like “The Deuce” and “Luke Cage.” Thanks to money Brazen and his partners had raised through the “Film Industry Feeds the Front Line” GoFundMe campaign, Saxe was able to get the food trucks to various healthcare operations in the tri-state area.

The campaign kicked off April 7th seeking $100,000 for supplies and labor. With the Teamsters Local 817 volunteering to deliver food from one of our trucks to the various nearby hospitals, the mobile support kitchen operation was ready to roll.

“What’s different about our campaign is a lot of people are donating money and are paying restaurants to deliver food to hospitals, which helps restaurants and feeds the” medical workers, Saxe said, adding that the meals are prepared fresh onsite rather than trucked in from elsewhere. “From [one] hospital we serviced three or four other facilities, so that kept our cost down.

“We were able to keep our personnel costs down by having them all work from one location and drive to other hospitals.”

To donate to Film Industry Feeds the Front Line, go to https://www.gofundme.com/f/film-industry-feeds-the-front-line/.

Food workers must be careful handling food at the best of times, let alone when the greatest worldwide pandemic in a century has ground global culture and business to a halt. Safety is paramount with a virulent pest like covid-19, which can be passed via the bodily fluids of an infected person.

Saxe said that not being in close contact with fellow cooks is nearly impossible inside a food truck’s galley, but the workers are all wearing masks and gloves to reduce the possibility of transmission not only to each other but to the healthcare workers they are feeding.

Film Industry Feeds the Front Line thus far has cooked up fresh meals for healthcare workers at hospitals and other medical facilities in all five boroughs of New York City as well as out on Long Island, Westchester County and in New Jersey.

“By the end of this week we will have fed about 13,000 healthcare workers [at] thirteen different hospitals,” Saxe said. “It’s been all from donations of people in the industry.”

That $100,000 has come from not only above-the-line studio executives, actors, directors and writers, but also below-the-line talent from across the entertainment world. It’s all about getting the word out to “friends of friends,” Saxe said.

“The president of one of the hospitals said, ‘We’re here helping to flatten the curve, and you guys are increasing our curves in other areas—but most importantly on our faces,’” Saxe enthused.

One community Film Industry Feeds the Front Line is paying special attention to is Paterson, New Jersey, which has served as the backdrop in recent years for such high-profile location shoots as scenes from “The Irishman,” Steven Spielberg’s upcoming “West Side Story” remake, as well as the recently aired HBO miniseries “The Plot Against America,” based on the novel by Newark native Philip Roth.

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The campaign has been feeding workers at Paterson’s St. Joseph’s Hospital. Saxe said he worked on a pilot that shot in Paterson last fall, and he praised Mayor André Sayegh for making the old industrial town so open for filming.

“When you have the diverse looks that Paterson has, it helps to have someone that is very supportive of the industry,” Saxe said.

Via text, Mayor Sayegh told me that while a great many films have been made about superheroes, the “real Supermen and Wonder Women are in the hospital fighting to save lives.”

“Therefore, it is inspiring that the film industry is rising to the occasion and feeding those who are on the frontline,” Sayegh said.

Paul Brozen

However, for all the good the campaign has accomplished, Saxe said that Film Industry Feeds the Front Line is running low on funding. When we spoke Monday, he estimated the operation had all of $250 left in its coffers. Saxe has continued to reach out to celebrities in the greater New York area hoping for an angel investment, but so far such a windfall has proven elusive.

“I was hoping for a [Robert] De Niro or Alec Badlwin or someone who screams ‘New York’ [but] that hasn’t really happened,” Saxe said, adding that De Niro is busy shepherding his own donation drive in New York, while former Mayor Michael Bloomberg is also directing millions toward the city’s hospitals.

None of which helps Saxe, so he’s continuing to seek donations from all other quarters. The campaign is now seeking an additional $25,000 to further its mission as the pandemic continues.

“I’m grateful for every donation,” Saxe said, adding there are currently 150 ambulances parked at the Meadowlands sports complex from all over the country ready to help out. Sooner or later, they’ll need chow brought their way.

“Those EMS workers are being put up in hotels in Secaucus, but all the restaurants are closed,” said Saxe. “So they have nowhere to eat.”

Saxe said that whenever the pandemic is astern, the film industry—like so many others—will have to adjust to a new normal when he and his colleagues get back to work. Meantime, he hopes to continue putting the entertainment industry’s resources into feeding first responders.

“It’s great having that personal interaction with the people,” said Saxe of handing out meals himself. “It’s nice to know you’re providing some comfort. [The healthcare personnel] can take a break and have a meal.”

To donate to Film Industry Feeds the Front Line, go to https://www.gofundme.com/f/film-industry-feeds-the-front-line/.

Featured image: Edwin Hooper

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