Halifax restaurant providing free meals for healthcare workers during COVID-19 pandemic
At a time when healthcare workers are exhausted and overworked, one Halifax restaurant decided to open their hearts — and their menu — to show their appreciation.
On March 23, Rasa: Flavours of India began offering free meals for medical professionals as a way of thanking them for their service during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’d been looking for a way to help the community and we decided the best idea would be to offer free meals for the medical professionals that are working so hard right now,” says Deeksha Bhaskar, who runs the Birmingham Street restaurant along with her father, Vijay Sharma.
They started by offering up the full menu, but then decided a condensed version made the most sense considering they were operating with limited staff and ingredients. Healthcare workers were able to choose from popular dishes like butter chicken, chicken curries, chicken biryani and lentils — all served hot with rice and naans.
Many of the delivery orders were packaged up and brought straight to the hospital, while some healthcare workers popped in to pick up individual orders on their way home from a long shift.
“They’re working so hard now, and we wanted them to know they could get a healthy, hot meal,” says Bhaskar. “The healthcare workers have been so appreciative, but the reaction from everyone — including our regular customers — has been incredibly positive.”
It was a generous offer considering the restaurant is currently closed for dine-in customers, due to the COVID-19 social distancing restrictions and the province’s State of Emergency.
That means the family-owned business is relying on take-out and delivery orders to stay afloat, but Bhaskar says the Rasa team was so busy with orders for healthcare workers that orders from paying customers accounted for just 10 or 15 per cent of the day’s meals.
Rasa paused the free meal promotion on March 29 in order to give their hard-working employees a break and ensure they can help out again in the future.
“It was a difficult decision, but in a time of limited resources, it’s important we use them as efficiently as we can to make sure that we have them available when there may be a more crucial need in the coming weeks,” says Bhaskar.
This isn’t the first time the Rasa team has rallied to support their community. When Hurricane Dorian caused more than $100 million in damages across Atlantic Canada, the restaurant stepped up to help. Rasa also organized a Thanksgiving buffet where anyone could come in for a free hot meal.
Now it’s small businesses like Rasa who need the support of their community. Even when the restrictions are lifted and Canadians are able to move freely about their own cities, Bhaskar says it may be tough for some businesses to bounce back from the COVID-19 closures.
“Many people will lose their businesses because of a lack of tourism. It doesn’t matter what the industry is — you are going to see an impact,” says Bhaskar. “So it’s all the more important to support your local businesses as much as you can.”
Along with placing takeout and delivery orders, many of Rasa’s loyal customers are also showing their support by purchasing gift cards to be used at a later date when the dining room can reopen. Bhaskar says even just sharing positive stories and posts on social media can help restaurants like Rasa because it reminds people of the importance of supporting local small businesses.
“You can still get takeout with us, but we hope people come back to dine with us later on. In the meantime, we really just want everybody to do what they can to support others right now,” says Bhaskar. “Whether it’s healthcare workers or grocery store cashiers — any front-line workers — find ways to support the people who are working hard for us.”