Medical Students, Volunteers Give Back To Community Through Organization That Advocates For Vulnerable Populations And Feeds Healthcare Staff During The Pandemic

Oak Park, IL – April 17, 2020

As medical students at the University of Chicago, Mark Chee and Phil Hsu understand the critical role hospital workers play during the COVID-19 pandemic. Front-line staff often work 12 hour shifts with little to no time for rest or proper nutrition as they treat patients affected by the crisis.

On hiatus from clinical rotations, Mark and Phil decided to dedicate time to a new non-profit that is making a difference for local restaurant workers facing economic hardship during this pandemic by paying them to produce nutritious meals for front-line medical workers.

Medical Student Volunteer

Off Their Plate (OTC), is a grass-roots organization started four weeks ago by Natalie Guo, a medical student at Harvard Medical School. The Chicago team, like all other teams nationally, is composed entirely of volunteers, including University of Chicago alumni Hannah Wang, Emily Shen, and Mario Gage; and Harvard Law students Adam Smith and Daniel Egel-Weiss. Mark and Phil serve as the health leads for the Chicago operation.

OTP has a critical mission to which I deeply relate,” said Mark. “The organization advocates for those in the community who are vulnerable during this unprecedented crisis. We’re focusing on community hospitals, federally qualified health centers (FQHCs), and organizations that are the most affected. At least 50% of the funds from Off Their Plate are used by our restaurant partners to pay their employees.”

On Friday, April 17, OTP arranged 170 meals to be delivered to West Sub front-line staff through the OTC organization from Seoul Taco, a Korean-Mexican fusion fast casual restaurant — and the organization delivered nearly 1,000 meals to hospitals across Chicago in its first week of operating. “As we make our way through this pandemic, meal donations are so important to our staff.  We are very thankful to OTP for thinking of us during this difficult time,” said Stacey Watson, Director of Community Relations at West Suburban Medical Center. “Staff members from essential departments throughout the hospital – including ICU, PCU, Sub-Acute Rehab and Food Services were thrilled to receive the amazing meal.”

University of Chicago medical students complete their Family Medicine rotations at healthcare facilities across Chicago. One of Phil’s rotation sites was at the PCC Walk-In Wellness Clinic (WIWC) at West Suburban Medical Center. “It was a privilege to work with and learn from the incredible providers and staff at WIWC. When we launched Off Their Plate in Chicago, I knew I wanted to reach out to my attending at WIWC asking if we could help in any way. We are grateful to be able to support West Suburban Medical Center’s fight against COVID-19 and its mission to provide outstanding care to the community,” said Phil.

OTP is also taking the lead on setting standards around safety protocol for restaurant workers and hospital deliveries, food sanitation, and wage sustainability for kitchen staff. The organization created a required set of COVID-specific standard operating procedures, which all partners are trained on and committed to follow.

“In these times, it’s up to us—as neighbors—to take care of our restaurant workers,” said Adam Smith, Chicago City Lead. “That’s where Off Their Plate comes in.”

Learn more about the organization by visiting https://offtheirplate.org/.

Other OTP Chicago team members include:

  • Emily Crawford
  • David Gelt
  • Stephen Brokaw
  • Bill Higgins
  • Saralena Barry
  • Sean Savett

To the OTP Chicago team, we are grateful for your support of our front-line staff during this difficult time. Thank you for your kindness and generosity.