Operation Nourish: Meal donations led by Bishop’s School sisters help restaurants, health workers in pandemic

Sisters Mira and Bela Gowda (at left) deliver restaurant meals purchased for health care workers.

As coronavirus cases surge countywide, two local teenagers are working to help two industries that have been heavily affected: health care and restaurants. Their nonprofit aims to support both by buying meals from restaurants not allowed to serve in person and donating them to people who work in crowded medical facilities.

Operation Nourish, run by sisters Bela Gowda, 14, and Mira Gowda, 17, who attend The Bishop’s School in La Jolla, starts “by working with a small business, a restaurant, and we purchase meals in bulk from them,” Mira said.

Mira, a Bishop’s junior who runs Operation Nourish’s social media accounts and works on the organization’s restaurant partnerships, said she looks for restaurants that are struggling with a lack of customers due to the pandemic.

The purchased meals, many with handwritten notes of gratitude attached, are delivered to health care workers at local hospitals hard-hit by a crush of COVID-19 patients, she said.

Bela, a Bishop’s freshman who works on Operation Nourish’s website and communicates with the hospitals, said the organization has food donation contracts with a few hospitals and works with them to decide where and when to drop off the meals.

Operation Nourish is funded through donations to the project’s GoFundMe account at Mira said she and Bela, who live in Rancho Santa Fe, have been reaching out to friends and family as well and hope more donations will roll in.

Operation Nourish has purchased from four restaurants so far and donated to six area hospitals. It has provided more than 1,000 meals — from 25 to 200 at a time, Mira said.

The notes attached to the meals were gathered from Bela’s classmates. “We thought it would be good to do cards to make the meals more personal,” she said.

Bela hopes the class will continue to make the cards into the new year. “Everyone had a lot of fun making them,” she said.

Operation Nourish has donated more than 1,000 meals to area hospitals.
Operation Nourish has donated more than 1,000 meals to area hospitals.

Bela and Mira took the reins of the organization more than six months ago from family friend Ajay Kshatriya, who started it in March as Feed the Fighters.

“We were thinking of starting a similar thing,” Mira said, but they ultimately decided to work with Kshatriya before taking over the project and renaming it after he returned to his full-time job.

“I’ve seen a lot of [similar] initiatives providing meals to health care workers,” Mira said, “and I think it’s important to help small businesses and thank them and be the connection between the community and the health care workers, just because we don’t show them a lot of direct gratitude.”

Being able to see the recipients and hand them the meals is important, she said. “Also, I think the handwritten messages help because we are able to connect a lot of students and kids who may not really be in contact with them and show the gratitude on a larger scale.”

Joshua McCabe, emergency medical services director for Sharp Memorial Hospital, whose frontline staff received meals from Operation Nourish, said the nurses and physicians “feel so grateful to have the community reach out this way.”

“Operation Nourish really brought a lot of cheer and happy bellies to frontline staff who are dealing with the most recent spike in COVID. It made a huge difference to all of us,” McCabe said. “Each of the lunches had handwritten thank-you notes and drawings, and it … really means so much to us to know our community is there supporting us through this most difficult time.”

Mira said “it’s interesting that one meal can have such an impact on our lives. It really makes [the workers’] day when they get the meal. One of the hospitals has a whole bulletin board of notes where they put up all the notes that they’ve gotten from kids, and I think it’s really cool to see that really small actions we take have an impact on them.”

“The restaurants are also really grateful that we’re able to purchase the meals. [It] helps them,” she said.

Both sisters said community service is important to them. Bela said she’s involved in a club through school that performs on Zoom for senior citizens and also works for a project to collect books to donate to libraries in Africa.

Mira volunteers with an organization that provides workshops for girls in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and another that donates extra produce from farmers markets to food banks.

She said she hopes to expand Operation Nourish to more restaurants and hospitals in 2021.

“We thought that this would be short-term,” she said. “But it’s picked up recently, and it’s good we have donations to provide support.” ◆