When Larry Galper moved to New Orleans last June to pursue his culinary dream, he was eager to embrace the soul of one of America’s most iconic cities. Now, he’s helping keep the spirit of NOLA alive by feeding locals amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Galper is one of the many people in the service industry impacted by COVID-19. Nearly a year after getting a job as a line cook at Jewel of the South, he was laid off as restaurants around the city closed. Galper has decided to make the most of his free time by feeding health care workers, first responders and fellow out of work service industry members with home cooked pizzas. It’s become a hit on social media.
“It completely happened by accident as much as I’d like to say I’m some genius do-gooder,” Galper tells Yahoo Lifestyle over the phone Tuesday.
A few weeks ago, Jewel of the South laid off employees so they could collect unemployment. Galper, who noted the general manager “did the right thing by all of us” with the decision, found himself “so bored at home” with no one to feed.
“I love to cook for people,” he explains. “I always loved making pizzas from when I learned in culinary school. So I decided once a day, I’ll put a riddle, joke or trivia about New Orleans on my Instagram story and the first person to get the right answer would get a pizza.”
The pizzas were a hit, so he decided to start selling them out of his home.
“The first person to buy two pies from me was my chef from the restaurant I was working at,” he says. The chef bought two margarita pizzas, but had one request: that they be delivered to “someone who deserves them.”
Galper “immediately” thought of the organization Louisiana Fresh, which supplies produce to most restaurants in the greater New Orleans area.
“When this all started happening and everyone was losing their jobs, they had a surplus of inventory that they couldn’t get to restaurants because they were all closed,” he explains. “I was so moved by what these people did. For two times a week as long as they could they were giving completely free produce to anyone laid off in the service industry.”
In addition to the two pizzas purchased, Galper decided to throw in two more pies. He documented the whole thing on social media.
“I posted about it and it got such a great response I was like — this is what I’m going to do now and it kind of took off from there. It was insane,” he says.
Galper’s friends and followers started promoting the concept on Instagram — that he would match each purchase with a donated pizza to someone in the community. Word spread and donations started rolling in, with the money going towards costs to make and deliver the pizzas. He said $10 feeds two to three people.
“All of a sudden, I had the funds,” he shares. “I could feed people at the level that I want to.”
Galper started making pizza deliveries to hospitals, medical facilities, fire stations, restaurants providing free family meals for furloughed workers and to grocery and pharmacy clerks. He noted that exchanges happen outside and proper social distancing protocols are followed.
Galper says while every delivery feels great, “There are some that are completely eye opening.”
One of the first deliveries he made was to nurses working the graveyard shift at Tulane University Hospital.
“These nurses came down and it was like I handed them a check for a million dollars, the look on their faces,” he says, quipping, “Granted they were wearing masks so I’m talking about the look on their faces from the nose up!”
Galper was “shaking” because seeing the nurses in person struck a chord.
“I didn’t even think about it that way — there are people working around the clock,” he says. “Because of that, now I try and make sure there are no night shifts that get neglected like that.”
Another memorable delivery was to the cleaning crew at University Medical Center.
“No one thinks about the cleaning crew,” Galper says, “We went and fed 25 of them and those people work around the clock as well. They came out and were so happy.”
New Orleans has been one of the hardest hit cities in America in terms of the current pandemic. According to Tuesday’s update from the Louisiana Department of Health, there are 16,284 confirmed cases in the state with more than 4,000 in New Orleans. Galper says he’s noticed a shift as he’s made deliveries in recent days.
“I’ve noticed in the last five days since news coverage has really featured New Orleans and keeps it in the same context as New York… you really notice a major difference,” he reveals. “The streets are empty.”
As for the mood of locals he interacts with, it varies.
“Amongst my community of friends it’s — I don’t want to sugarcoat it — it’s a little sad,” Galper admits. “Some people don’t know if there will be jobs for them… some people don’t even have the time to worry about that, they’ve already left because they can’t afford to live here anymore.”
Galper, who says he’s “never interfaced this much with health care workers,” praises those he’s met.
“Every time I go and deliver these pizzas to University Medical Center, Tulane, any of the fire stations or grocery stores — those people are amazing,” he shares. “I’ve never been met with anything but a smile. Probably because I’m carrying 10 to 12 delicious pizzas, but I can’t even imagine what they’re going through every day and what they’re witnessing and risking. On that end, the vibe is good and it kind of fuels me to keep going. But outside of that, the people that are just kind of waiting around or don’t know what to do, it’s a little sad.”
Galper continues, “This keeps me busy enough so I don’t see a lot, but I’m on a bunch of text groups, WhatsApp groups, support groups where we notify each other about different grants going around in our industry, so I see glimpses of what people are saying and what’s going on and the mental health thing is definitely a concern.”
In two weeks, thanks to donations, Galper has been delivering over 20 pizzas per day to feed heroes on the front lines and those affected by the pandemic. He documents the whole process on social media and tags the donor who funded a specific delivery.
“It’s equally as important to feed these people as it is to connect the people donating the money to them,” he explains. “I don’t take that lightly, I want people to see where their money is going.”
Galper hopes his journey inspires people to find some way that they can contribute to their communities.
For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC and WHO’s resource guides.
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