Larry Bowman has a nose for food, a head for business and a heart for Lebanon. And because he does, some altruistic-minded individuals are going to get a chance to volunteer; some local doctors, nurses, and paramedics are going to be well fed; and some local restaurants are going to get a financial shot in the arm.
A handful of local organizations and businesses are now putting this concept into practice. Dreamed up by Bowman, the former chief executive officer of the Lebanon Valley Chamber of Commerce, the initiative is called “Feeding the Frontliners.”
It’s another great example of the Lebanon Community coming together to help each other, and itself.
The essence of Bowman’s idea comes from helping local frontline healthcare workers, one of the hardest-hit and hardest-working groups during the COVID-19 crisis. What better way to honor their dedication than filling their stomachs with delicious food prepared by financially-challenged local restaurants?
Of course, the third component of the plan is the volunteer drivers who will pick up the food and deliver it to hospitals, nursing facilities and first-aid facilities across Lebanon County.
Bowman’s idea will officially come to fruition on Wednesday, May 6. While some of the logistics still need to be ironed out, Feeding the Frontliners is being funded by a grant from the Lebanon County Commissioners.
“There’s going to be a lot of organization going into the groundwork, especially with picking up the meals,” Bowman said. “We need to gather some information from the restaurants, like can they package the meals. We’ve got to be careful with how the meals are prepared. We’re talking about 30 to 40 to 75 meals at a time.”
Right now, Bowman said, the need for this service is evident. Feeding the Frontliners is anticipating a three-week lifespan, but Bowman said the initiative will continue until funding for the initiative is exhausted.
“[At that point,] it won’t be daily, but it’ll certainly be more than once a week,” Bowman said. “There’s also the aspect of about two dozen volunteers picking up and delivering to folks. We’re going to try to make this as active as we can.”
Sometimes the best ideas are ones that are borrowed.
Bowman came up with concept from watching news coverage of the coronavirus pandemic, then he put his own personal and local spin on it. On April 7, he penned a letter to the Lebanon County Commissioners requesting $10,000 for the proposed project.
The County Commissioners responded with a resounding affirmative during a virtual meeting the following week, in the form of $25,000 in funding. The County Commissioners pooled the money from a local hotel tax, which helps fund Lebanon County tourism through the organization Visit Lebanon Valley.
“We want to make this as simple as possible for Larry. We can entrust them to return any money to the tourism fund if they don’t need it all,” Chairman Bob Phillips said during the virtual meeting. “This is coming at a critical time when restaurants sorely need this money.”
Bowman said the re-allocation of those funds will not affect Visit Lebanon Valley’s operations.
“The hotel tax money allocated for this program is generated by tourism marketing efforts,” explained Visit Lebanon Valley President Jen Kuzo in an email to LebTown. “Monies are given monthly to support and promote events in the Lebanon Valley.”
“I feel (this program) can be a win-win to support our restaurants and our frontline workers.”
“Our current funds are greatly diminished,” noted Kuzo, “however we are focusing marketing efforts to promote our local businesses as they need everyone’s support now more than ever.”
“Obviously, we needed funding, and we didn’t have time to do a full-blown fundraising campaign,” said Bowman. “I thought, ‘Maybe the commissioners would be willing to put money into it.’ I talked to [Commissioner] Bill Ames, and he told me to put the proposal in writing.”
The beauty of Bowman’s initiative came into focus when the Lebanon community reacted, with a certain level of coordination and the immediacy required to put it into action. The county commissioners weren’t the only local officials who stepped up to make it happen.
Bowman said that Mike Kuhn of WellSpan Good Samaritan Hospital, Kim Kreider-Umble of Lebanon Family Health Services, and Brooke Smith of United Way of Lebanon County have been instrumental in instituting the program.
“First and foremost, we want to recognize the frontliners,” said Bowman. “Doctors, nurses, EMTs—those are the people on the frontlines every day. At the same time, we’re hoping to help some of the small businesses we know are struggling. But it also gives the opportunity for some people to step in. It’s an opportunity to tie in other people in the community.
“I keep thinking about two groups in particular,” Bowman added. “All the small business owners who have had to shut their doors. Also, on top of that, there are also their employees, who have had their incomes stopped. That’s not taking anything away from the frontliners.”
The entire project is designed to do the most good.
Bowman said he hopes between 1,000-2,000 meals could be purchased with the allocated funds, depending on the type of meals and the restaurants preparing them.
“We’ve formed a small steering committee to determine organizational details,” Bowman continued. “We’ve put together a fairly lengthy list of local restaurants. We’re trying to do a fair geographical representation around the county.”
Bowman said the committee has targeted an initial list of restaurants, but they’re striving to be “realistic about the number of restaurants” the initiative will be able to work with. Right now, that number falls somewhere between 24 and 30.
The meals would be delivered to all levels of healthcare facilities across Lebanon County.
“We’re hoping to provide a lot of meals,” said Bowman. “We’re not sure of the number yet. It’ll come down to costs of individual meals. We’ve set a limit on the price we want to pay. We want to spread the money as much as possible.”
A 72-year-old resident of Cornwall, Bowman was the CEO of the Lebanon Valley Chamber of Commerce for seven years leading up to his retirement in 2014. Bowman’s connection to the Lebanon community is still very strong.
“There’s so much need in the community,” said Bowman. “Anything any one of us can do to help and pitch in is important. It’s not a time for anyone to be sitting on the sidelines. We’ve already heard from other businesses in the community who are providing meals. There are other groups out there playing a role as well.
“I would hope that everyone will take a look at what they can do during these times,” concluded Bowman. “Even if it’s just picking up a phone and calling a family member. I hope everyone who has the ability will think about the role they can play. Every little bit helps.”
Sometimes the worst of conditions can bring out the best in people.
Is there a story you think LebTown should report? Let our newsroom know using the form below.
Help us provide journalism Lebanon County needs.
If you are thankful for LebTown, consider joining as a member. Members get an inside look at our publishing schedule each week, plus invites to a members-only Facebook group and happy hours.
Learn more and join now here.
Subscribe to our newsletter for updates each weekday at 3 p.m.
Full Disclosure: The campaigns of Bill Ames, Bob Phillips, and Jo Ellen Litz were advertisers on LebTown during the previous election cycle. WellSpan Health and the Lebanon Valley Chamber of Commerce are advertisers on LebTown at present. LebTown does not make editorial decisions based on advertising relationships and advertisers do not receive special editorial treatment. Learn more about advertising with LebTown here.