Caroline Elliott is on a mission to feed healthcare workers on the front lines
Since the start of the pandemic, Caroline Elliott has raised more than $85,000 to feed front-line workers in the fight against COVID-19. It’s a campaign that has taken on a life of its own since its launch back in March, gaining momentum, attracting volunteers and making an impact.
The first week in May, it also landed her in the Oval Office of the White House, in a group of her fellow nurses, listening to President Donald Trump sing their collective praises in celebration of National Nurses Day.
“It was wild. It was kind of an out-of-body experience,” Elliott said. “It’s such an honor to be a nurse. The fact that I’m considered in the same category as so many people I’ve met who have these incredible stories is just mind-blowing to me. I’m doing what I can, and that’s important. But as I kept saying over and over at the White House, I definitely don’t deserve this.”
The front-line workers she’s been feeding, as well as the restaurants she’s been able to support in the process, would beg to differ.
Elliott is a fertility nurse. She lives in Charlotte but works remotely for a clinic in Washington, D.C. She is not on the front lines, but she has friends and colleagues who are.
“That’s what sparked my initial urge to do something. I just started to think, ‘What can I do to help?”’ Elliott said.
One of her friends on the West Coast had purchased bagels and coffee for a local hospital, and Elliott decided to do something similar. Healthcare workers need to eat to do their jobs. With cafeterias and restaurants shut down, they have to bring food from home or rely on vending machines with limited options. Elliott thought she could take that worry off their plate, while helping them eat well throughout their shifts.
At the same time, local restaurants needed business as the state-mandated lockdown forced them to close their doors and lay off workers. So Elliott decided to try a campaign that would pull double duty: She’d raise money to buy food from local restaurants, giving them a much-needed revenue boost. Then, she would donate that food to front-line medical workers at facilities across the Charlotte region.
She started out taking donations via Venmo. Within 24 hours, she’d raised $8,000.
“I quickly booked some lunches and some dinners, and it took off from there,” Elliott said. “People heard my story and spread the word. It’s been kind of a whirlwind. We’ve raised a lot of money, had some fun partnerships and worked with some generous, gracious people.”
Those people have given life to the campaign, now known as #CLTStrong, and its mission even when Elliott couldn’t. On the day of her first delivery back in March, she found out she’d been exposed to the coronavirus.
“I was heartbroken,” Elliott said.
Soon, her husband, Frank, tested positive for COVID-19, and while Elliott was never officially tested, she fell ill soon after.
“We had to call on our friends and family and strangers to do our deliveries. Now it’s all strangers — people I’ve never met. That’s one thing I’m really grateful for,” Elliott said. “It’s just complete strangers coming out of the woodwork and wanting to do something to help. Nobody has to do anything, but they are.”
Elliott put herself on self-quarantine for six weeks and relied on the generosity of volunteers to continue deliveries. Local businesses, such as jewelry maker Twine & Twig and Glory Days Apparel, have joined the effort to raise funds. Young Plantations filled her car with 600 bags of cookies.
Those donations have gone out across the healthcare community in Charlotte, including Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center. Alex Funderburg, chair of the Presbyterian Medical Center Foundation board of directors, has become one of her champions, and the entire team at Presbyterian Medical Center has been tremendously grateful for the support #CLTStrong has been able to provide.
“Caroline knew a lot of these workers were facing tough hours and putting themselves in harm’s way,” Funderburg said. “Now, the campaign has served thousands of meals to our healthcare workers, and it’s been an entirely grassroots effort.”
At the same time, the money she’s raised has provided critical support for local restaurants. One restaurant owner told her he was able to hire back one of his employees, knowing that a big order was coming from #CLTStrong.
“Now I’m learning about which restaurants really need the help right now, and we’re doing our best to help those places out,” she said.
Even as we edge our way into a new and less restrictive normal, Elliott plans to continue this work, providing meals, helping restaurants and collaborating with others in the community. It’s not her job, but it is part of what being a nurse means to her.
“When I was a pediatric nurse, there were so many nights when I lay in bed with patients and scratched their backs to help them go to sleep. As nurses, we’re constantly stepping in to do whatever is needed to help,” Elliott said. “Throughout all of this, I have not heard one person complain. Everybody is just so eager to get in there and do what they can do.”
She’s seen that same resiliency throughout the broader Charlotte community, as well.
“Everyone has come together. It’s been pretty amazing,” she said.
You can do your part to support front-line healthcare workers with a donation to the Hope for Remarkable Team Aubergine Fund (formerly the Novant Health COVID-19 Disaster Relief Fund).
The fund provides critical resources for those workers so they can focus on the important work of helping people and saving lives.
Join us and make your gift today.