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