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Foundation Cafe Workers Prepared and Packaged Pandemic Meals

At a breathtaking rate of 2,000 boxes a day, members of The Rockefeller Foundation’s cafeteria team worked long hours with other volunteers for weeks at a time to pack up food to support exhausted hospital workers fighting the Covid-19 pandemic.

They also volunteered with an organization founded during the pandemic, Full Heart, Full Bellies, and prepared 500 bags per day of food and freshly made meals for needy New York City families.

And every other week, they cooked free breakfast and lunch for the staff that continued to maintain the Manhattan building that serves our headquarters.

This is some of the quiet work that the Foundation helped support during the Covid-19 shutdowns by its decision to continue to pay our cafeteria staff and other vendors even while our office was shuttered.

“At the start of the pandemic, we thought we were closing down for two weeks. Then it became three months, and then more than two years,” recalls Director Monika Vargas of Restaurant Associates, the cafeteria team’s manager who has worked with the Foundation for 15 years.

“It was a difficult and uncertain period, but The Rockefeller Foundation took wonderful care of me and my team. This allowed us to contribute to hospital workers fighting Covid, and to families who had lost their breadwinners because of Covid shutdowns,” she says.

Our Values in Action

This is the very definition of The Rockefeller Foundation values.

We could have saved money on operational costs. But I firmly believe if you only consider issues from the standpoint of economic efficiency, your view is short-sighted. These are our colleagues. We wanted to support them individually, and simultaneously we wanted to support their companies.

And to their remarkable credit, our cafeteria team said, “we will try to do something to earn this.” That’s how the volunteer work evolved.

Monika Vargas, cafeteria director (left), and Amanda Laboy, sous chef, packing boxes for hospital workers during the pandemic. (Photo courtesy Monika Vargas)

Sometimes other businesses called us at the Foundation to say, “is it true you are doing this?” And we said, “yes, and we recommend you do the same, not only because it is morally right, but also because it is a good business practice.” We wanted our trusted vendors to stay in business, so they would be there once the shutdowns ended.

Willingness to help is part of the Rockefeller culture. In such a small place, with a relatively small number of employees, I’ve never seen such a concentration of sincerely dedicated people.

During the period of mandated remote work, I have missed most of all the energy of my colleagues at The Rockefeller Foundation. That’s a key reason I am eager for us all—including our inspiring cafeteria team—to be rejoined when our Manhattan office reopens this winter.