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Operation Lunch Break

Donation effort provides a little stress-reduction for local health care workers

When Medford hair stylist Rachel Ridge asked a local intensive care unit nurse how she could make a tough week feel a little less stressful, she figured on providing a dinner or some coffee stand drinks for a few of the region’s overwhelmed health care workers.

The agony in the woman’s voice, however, and the simplicity of her request, motivated Ridge to start her own movement. Dubbed Operation Lunch Break, Ridge’s mission is to provide hearty snacks, drinks and handwritten thank you notes to those caring for COVID-19 patients.

“I was already a little depressed by this whole thing; I think we all are. Everybody saying I believe this and that or I don’t believe this or that, it’s all been just … really overwhelming,” Ridge said.

“This client, I did her hair at six in the morning because she could barely find a time she wasn’t working as an ICU nurse. She said, ‘I get off at 6 a.m. I can sleep a little and then I’ll come down.’ She really needed her hair done, so I went down early to do her appointment.”

Ridge said the nurse, who asked not to be identified, chatted about work stress and the relentless stream of COVID-19 patients.

Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Rachel Ridge, a hair stylist at Salon 7 in Medford, sorts through items she helped to collect that will be donated to local health care workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 surge.

“I just tried to listen and understand how hard things have been for our health care workers. I asked her, ‘What can I do for you?’ And I remember thinking maybe I could take her family dinner or something,” Ridge said.

“She said, ‘We barely have enough time to even take a break right now. She said Dutch Bros and Human Bean had been bringing them coffee, but that they didn’t have time to really go grab anything to eat. She said that being able to get a break of any kind would be a big help.”

After a handful of other friends, all in the health care field, echoed the same frustrations, Ridge reached out to her community connections — from her salon and from more than a decade of involvement in Boy Scouts — to stock up on drinks, snacks and handwritten notes for staff at Rogue Regional Medical Center, specifically those caring for COVID-19 patients.

Within hours, donations of food items, Venmo donations to purchase other needed items and, Ridge’s favorite part, handwritten notes to share with stressed-out health care workers.

“I have almost $1,000 people have donated. My clients see the pile and ask what we’re doing, and then they want to donate, too. Every few weeks, I’ll see what they need, and I’ll use the donations to go shop for them.”

Angelina White, a friend and client of Ridge, said she donated to the effort as a small gesture of gratitude for health care workers.

“I wanted to acknowledge all these men and women that are working so hard right now. There are respiratory therapists, lab technicians, phlebotomy techs, X-ray and CT techs along with housekeepers and so many others putting so much work in right now to get everyone through this,” White said.

“I want them all to know they are seen and heard. I want them to know that we support them and that we’re grateful for all they are doing to serve our community.”

Medford resident Jan Sumrak contributed protein bars to the first collection effort. Retired from 27 years in the medical field, Sumrak remembers countless hours and missed breaks.

“They all have had to put aside however they feel and do the job. Health care for humanity is what they chose, and it’s great they’re so dedicated. We’re very lucky to have so many willing to still show up every day,” Sumrak said.

Desirae Myers, Asante communications and marketing manager, said it was heartwarming to have community support during trying times.

“Our health care workers are under insurmountable stress and working harder than they ever have, caring for our community during this surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. ... It’s going to take all of us, as a community, to wrap around our frontline caregivers, who are sacrificing so much to care for us all,” Myers said.

“Gestures like Rachel’s provide these workers with hope and a reminder that the community is supporting them.”

Ridge said she would continue her efforts for as long as the need remained.

“Our health care workers are dealing with so much, and this is an everybody problem. We’ve got to support the people that are saving everybody’s lives,” she said. “It’s not political. It’s just the right thing to do.”

Notes and snacks for health care workers can be delivered to Ridge’s Medford location, Salon 7, at 329 Kennet St. Text or call 541-301-5831to arrange drop off.

Suggested items include protein bars, jerky, applesauce pouches, gluten-free snacks, trail mix, candies, chocolate, water bottles and sports drinks. Items can also be delivered to the Asante Foundation, at 229 N. Bartlett St., Medford, 97501.

Donations can also be made to Rachel-Ridge-2 on Venmo.

“It’s given us something positive to focus on,” Ridge said. “It really makes me cry every time someone brings something in. I thought it was gonna be a few cases of granola bars. … It’s turned out to be so much more.”

Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com.