Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset has launched its "Pay it Forward" campaign to give back to the restaurant community for support during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hospital president and CEO Tony Cava said since March, RWJ University Hospital Somerset has received $390,000 in food donations from hundreds of restaurants. With the support and generosity of those restaurants, Cava said, the hospital was  able to feed the staff breakfast, lunch and dinner virtually every day over a three-month period.

Now the hospital is saying thank you by patronizing those restaurants each week. Cava said the campaign kicked off on Friday — the hospital ordered 300 pizzas from four different local pizzerias. Every Friday, staff will be encouraged to order out meals from various restaurants in and around the county.

Cava said while the hospital sprung for the pizzas in the first week going forward, each department has been asked to use its funding to buy food for its staff while inside the hospital. But he said the hospital has also been encouraging employees to buy food from the eateries on their own time to feed their families.

Photo Credity by RWJUH Somerset

Each staff member has been given little cards that read "Heroes Eat Here" to leave at restaurants. Cava also added that the local restaurants in and around Somerset County were given posters and certificates to the restaurants to post in their windows to show that the hospital supports them and they support the hospital.

Cava said the program will continue for as long as there is a ban on indoor dining in New Jersey. So as long as that's in place, the hospital plans to patronize the restaurants. Unfortunately, Cava does not see an end to the pandemic soon.

One group Cava wants to thank is The Somerville FLAG (Front Line Appreciation Group), led by a local high school teacher. He said that the group galvanized the restaurants — when it pulled the restaurants together, they donated double and triple of the amounts they were asked to give.

"It's just so hard to pay that back. From a morale perspective, it was just an amazing thing. We felt that the pay it forward program was just a small of way of helping them out," said Cava.

What's even more exciting, Cava said, is that many other hospitals in the RWJ healthcare system plan on adopting the "Pay It Forward" campaign as well.

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