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North Bay Spirit Award winners teamed up to feed healthcare workers, help restaurants

The North Bay Spirit Award

The North Bay Spirit Award was developed in partnership with The Press Democrat and Comcast NBCU to celebrate people who make a difference in our communities. In addition to highlighting remarkable individuals, the North Bay Spirit program aims to encourage volunteerism, raise visibility of nonprofit organizations and create a spirit of giving. Read about a new North Bay Spirit recipient every month in the Sonoma Life section.

To nominate your own candidate, go to

www.pressdemocrat.com/northbayspirit

On their 27th wedding anniversary May 1, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Robert and Stephanie Bisordi didn’t buy presents for each other. Instead, they bought trays of tacos from La Plaza Mexican Restaurant and drove to Sutter Santa Rosa Hospital, where they distributed dinner to busy healthcare workers.

“We decided that would be our gift to each other,” Robert Bisordi said. “This year’s just different for everybody.”

Two months earlier, when Sonoma County instituted its initial shelter-in-place health order in March, the Bisordis were home at their 20-acre ranch in Fulton, pondering one night after dinner how the pandemic would affect the community, particularly frontline workers.

Robert Bisordi, 50, knows a thing or two about being on the frontlines of an emergency. He’s the fire captain at the Sonoma County Fire District, where he’s worked since 1988. He recalled the significance of a warm meal during wildfire season, especially in the last three years when firefighters were up against unprecedented, devastating fires like the 2017 Tubbs fire and last year’s Kincade fire.

“A meal provides first responders a moment to take pause from the stress of an ongoing incident and to take care of themselves,” he said. “This pause allows for time to decompress, while sharing a meal and conversation with your team.”

With that in mind, the couple formed the Lunches for Lifesavers program, which uses community donations to buy food at local restaurants and provide meals for healthcare workers. The program helps struggling restaurants get some business and at the same time, nourishes busy nurses and doctors on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The community does so much for us that we like to give back as well,” said Stephanie Bisordi, 47, office assistant at Mark West Elementary School who also runs the lunch program and teaches electives.

Stephanie and Robert Bisordi are this month’s North Bay Spirit Award honorees for creating and coordinating this volunteer program. The award is a collaboration between The Press Democrat and Comcast to spotlight local leaders and individuals who come up with inventive solutions to meet challenges in their communities.

The Lunches for Lifesavers program ran full-steam from March through the end of June, raising about $4,000 in donations and immediately delivering over 40 restaurant-cooked meals to Sutter staff three days a week, two times a day in order to cover healthcare workers on both day and night shifts. This month, as COVID-19 cases rose in the county, the program started back up again to provide snacks for healthcare workers in their breakrooms.

“We just do it because it’s what we do,” said Stephanie Bisordi, who appreciated the recognition but said it’s not what motivates them to volunteer. “Community service is just part of our lives.”

Nichole Frey, a family friend and Sutter emergency room nurse who recently helped distribute food to her colleagues, said the Bisordis are often the first to volunteer in any situation, including for FFA fundraisers at Santa Rosa High School, ag boosters and at the sheriff’s office.

“You can count on the Bisordis. They are just good, kind people,” Frey said.

Being a healthcare worker during the pandemic, on top of facing the uncertainties of everyday life, brings with it a lot of anxiety, local nurses said. There are constantly new updates about the novel coronavirus first detected in humans last December.

“We were preparing for this pandemonium in Sonoma County at the very beginning, the surge that they were expecting. We just kept thinking, is today the day? Is today the day?” said Gina Mitchell, a charge nurse at the Sutter hospital emergency room.

Mitchell leads ER staff and promotes teamwork as they navigate the frontlines during intense 12-hour shifts. They sometimes don’t get to their lunch break until nine hours into their workday.

A hot meal served in their breakroom was a glorious pause during busy days for Mitchell and her colleagues.

“Community support coming through to us was just monumental in helping us just know that we are not alone in this battle that we're undertaking,” said Mitchell, who has worked at Sutter for 18 years.

“It was always something different, from different restaurants,” Mitchell said of the Bisordis’ deliveries. “It was wonderful. It just kept coming, that was the best part. It wasn’t a one-time thing.”

“I can’t say thank you enough to the Bisordis for taking the time, putting their efforts and emotions back to the community to help out, because it really was well-received on our end,” she added.

The North Bay Spirit Award

The North Bay Spirit Award was developed in partnership with The Press Democrat and Comcast NBCU to celebrate people who make a difference in our communities. In addition to highlighting remarkable individuals, the North Bay Spirit program aims to encourage volunteerism, raise visibility of nonprofit organizations and create a spirit of giving. Read about a new North Bay Spirit recipient every month in the Sonoma Life section.

To nominate your own candidate, go to

www.pressdemocrat.com/northbayspirit

The Bisordis say the program takes a lot of horsepower to run, and it’s a community-wide effort. “It’s not just us,” Robert Bisordi said.

Through the Bisordi Ranch, the couple are members of the Mark West Area Chamber of Commerce, an organization that’s helped run Lunches for Lifesavers and posts updates on food deliveries on its Facebook page.

Chamber President Steve Plamann said the community has had a unique set of challenges before the pandemic, with devastating wildfires and power shut-offs during fire season. The Bisordis’ program helps the community lift itself up, he said.

“It does make people feel better that they can give and not feel helpless with the virus going on. It’s a positive thing,” said Plamann, who credited the chamber’s vice president, Beth Henry, for doing a lot of legwork for the program.

Local restaurant owners said they appreciated the large food orders during a time when business has fallen off dramatically. The pandemic and orders against indoor dining have severely strained local restaurants, forcing some to close their doors permanently.

Karen Johnson, manager of Kaffe Mocha & Grill in Santa Rosa, said she was happy to learn about the Lunches for Lifesavers program and contribute. “They got donations from the community to help the restaurants help the nurses, so for me, it was a circle of giving,” she said.

Johnson’s team cooked trays of fettuccine with sides of chicken, steak and vegetables; stir-fry with rice, garden salad and Caesar salad for about 40 people. Johnson also bought about $100 worth of snacks to donate to the healthcare workers.

“Kaffe Mocha’s been here over 10 years; it’s family,” Johnson said. “Everybody’s been here since the very beginning, so to be given the chance to help the community and make money was amazing.”

Community volunteer work is part of the fabric of the Bisordis’ lives. Every year, the Bisordis organize a work party to clean up the Fulton Cemetery.

Their kids, who moved back home during the pandemic, are the fifth generation of the family to work the ranch, founded by ancestor Euginio Bisordi, an Italian immigrant, in 1898.

Lori, 25, is working toward an agriculture teaching credential, and Robbie, 22, is enrolled at Sonoma State University with his sights set on becoming a game warden. Both received The President’s Volunteer Service Award when they were teens.

The Bisordis’ ranch grows walnuts, chestnuts, olives, eggs and zinfandel and chardonnay wine grapes. During the pandemic, they expanded their vegetable garden to share the bounty with friends.

“There’s so much uncertainty about this (pandemic). With a wildfire, you know the season ends and eventually there’s rain,” Robert Bisordi said. “But this, we don’t know when this will end.”

To contribute to the Lunches for Lifesavers program, contact Beth Henry at the Mark West Area Chamber of Commerce, 707-360-8027.

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