On Sunday, the “Applaud the Squad” campaign, spearheaded by Shezleen Vellani, provided flowers, quiches, cakes and other treats to brighten the day of nearly 50 front-line workers at the hospital.
“I realized a lot of these moms would be working all day instead of spending time at home with their families,” said Vellani, “and I wanted to do something to make their day a little bit happier.”
In addition to the refreshments and floral arrangements, the event also distributed favor bags to the staff, which included cookies and pin buttons decorated with messages to say “Thank You” and “Happy Mother’s Day.”
“Everyone was happy, even the driver who brought everything over for us,” Vellani explained. “It seemed like it was just a good day for everyone.
“What keeps coming up over and over again is that these little things lift morale,” she continued. “It’s been really difficult for doctors and nurses during this time, and it’s amazing how something like this can bring a bit of happiness into their lives.”
Roots for the Applaud the Squad fundraiser were sown back in November, when Vellani, who works for a nonprofit in the humanitarian sector, decided to take on cake baking as a hobby.
By the time March rolled around, Vellani and her husband had a kitchen full of cakes, and with the city’s coronavirus outbreak ramping up they decided to donate the baked goods to somewhere they would make a difference.
Through a group on Facebook, Vellani got in touch with a doctor at Lenox Hill Hospital on the Upper East Side who was interested in bringing in the cakes for staff in the emergency unit there.
“Just from speaking to her, I realized that there was a much greater need,” recalled Vellani. “These doctors and nurses are working crazy hours, often without access to food, especially those on the night shift.
“And obviously they needed nutritious healthy food as well to keep them going,” she added, “so that’s where the whole idea of a GoFundMe came about.”
From an initial goal of $5,000 on March 24, Vellani’s campaign has raised nearly $11,000 to date to send food and baked goods to emergency healthcare staff at five New York City hospitals.
Applaud the Squad received donations from across the nation and globe, from Canada to India and even Tanzania.
Vellani says with donations starting to taper off, she may have to wrap up Applaud the Squad by the end of May. New Yorkers can follow along with Vellani and her campaign on Instagram (@quarantinebaker), and those wishing to contribute can do so at gofundme.com/f/applaud-the-squad.
With the money raised on GoFundMe, the campaign is also able to help support local businesses hit hard by the pandemic. Vellani has partnered with Queens eateries like Aloria bakery in Astoria and LIC’s Adda Indian Canteen, as well as many others all over the city.
She has been impressed by the generosity of the restaurants, which despite struggling financially themselves have been throwing in donations and waiving delivery fees.
LIJ Forest Hills became the most recent hospital added to the Applaud the Squad’s network, receiving one or two food donations a week over the last month. It is the only of those hospitals located outside of Manhattan.
Starting two weeks ago, the hospital also began receiving food and beverage donations through a program developed by Goldman Sachs.
With funding from the GS program, nearly 20 local restaurants, including Portofino, Rego Bagel, Austin Ale House, and Queens Bully, are able to prepare meals for hospital staff on a rotational basis as they work around the clock on the front lines of pandemic.