Local restaurant/catering company Culinary Creations has been serving the Hillsborough Township community for 25 years.
Owner/Chef Andrew Pantano said he has always appreciated the support he has gotten from the community and the customers who have asked for his services over the years.
During these tough times of the coronavirus pandemic, Pantano has found ways to give back to the community that he has called home for the past 14 years, starting with giving out free meals every day to senior citizens in adult community homes and families in need.
In addition to helping the elderly and families who have suffered financially from the virus, Pantano is also donating food to hospitals around the area where doctors, nurses and other healthcare officials are on the front lines combating COVID-19.
“This is our time to give back to those that have given back to us for the last 25 years,” Pantano said. “We felt that the money we can make right now should be donated in some sort of way to the community.”
Alongside Hillsborough resident Meryl Bisberg, Pantano created a donation initiative called Frontline Healthcare Workers Fund, making freshly made lunches for healthcare workers in local hospitals and for the Hillsborough Township Police Department.
Bisberg reached out to Pantano after seeing that residents in the community would just as likely spend money on take-out to support local restaurants as they would to support healthcare workers.
“I kept hearing stories about how busy the emergency rooms and intensive care units were in hospitals and that the medical staff didn’t have time to eat or rest,” Bisberg said. “I thought that helping give hospital workers good food would help boost their morale and let them know that they have support from the community.”
Bisberg contacts each of the hospitals that are close to the Hillsborough area during the week to gauge which units need the food donations the most at that time and the amount of people needed to feed. She’ll then coordinate the best date and time to make the deliveries.
Most units have 25-30 people, while some have upwards of 60-75 healthcare workers.
While Bisberg coordinates everything with the hospitals, Pantano is sending out the word of donations on various social media platforms to the community, along with preparing the food and delivering it himself to the hospitals.
It’s a Pantano family affair at Culinary Creations during the pandemic. Pantano’s wife, Joann, and brother, Joseph, are all working together to help make the food and deliver it. Even son Brandon is in the fold, flying in from Arizona to pitch in and help the cause.
For every $10 donation, a medical worker will receive a boxed gourmet lunch that includes a side salad, a brownie and something to drink.
Staff members at the hospital do have the choice to eat the meal on site or bring it home to warm up and eat later.
People can also use the $10 donation or more to go towards meals given out to first responders in the community.
Each donor will have their name mentioned in a thank you note that is provided in each meal purchase by Pantano to medical workers and first responders.
So far, Culinary Creations has delivered meals for the last three weeks to units in three different hospitals: Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital-New Brunswick, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital-Somerset and Saint Peter’s University Hospital in New Brunswick.
On April 21, Pantano delivered food to healthcare workers in both the ICU and the Pediatric ICU at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital-New Brunswick.
“We want to thank healthcare workers for their sacrifice and commitment during these tough times,” Bisberg said. “They are our heroes and it’s the least we can do.”
For senior citizens and people in need, Pantano offers four to five meals a day for people to purchase for themselves and donate as “Meal Deals”. Meals are updated daily on the catering company’s website and social media platforms.
Besides purchasing meals, people have also been donating money towards the cause, Pantano said.
As word of their mission has grown across the community, many Hillsborough residents have shared what Culinary Creations is doing with friends and family across the country.
Pantano said that the catering company received a generous donation from people in Florida towards the cause.
“It’s great to see people just want to help,” Pantano said. “The community has been supportive of us in what we’re trying to do. It’s that type of community support that we all need to help get us through these tough times.”
As of April 18, Pantano said that Culinary Creations is close to hitting its goal of raising $5,000 and making 500 meals.
To make an online donation for the Culinary Creations’ Frontline Healthcare Workers Fund, visit https://checkout.square.site/pay/8ab21f7942d04c77a292c96577f49471.