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Portland food carts provide free meals for health care heroes

Matta, JoJo, Gracie’s Apizza and many more local eateries are sharing their talents in the kitchen with health care workers on the front line of the coronavirus.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Richard Le loves food, not just for taste but because of the way it brings us together. So he's found a way to continue following that passion even amid the coronavirus pandemic, and to show some appreciation to health care workers at the same time.

“I really believe that’s one of the basic ways that we connect as human beings, is through food and through that experience,” Le said.  

He’s the owner of Matta, a popular Portland food truck that serves mouthwatering Vietnamese soul food inspired by Le’s family traditions.

“The approach I have to the food is a little different cooking technique compared to my aunties and my mom,” he said. “But I still try to hold very true to the flavors and profiles that I remember growing up with as a kid.”

His passion is his food and feeding his community.  

So it wasn’t easy when the pandemic forced him to close the doors of his new restaurant and his food truck.

“That was pretty tough,” Le said.

That didn’t stop him from cooking. He teamed up with another local food cart, JoJo, to give free meals to unemployed restaurant workers and kids out of school. But he didn’t stop there. Now, he’s delivering free meals to health care workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis.

“I honestly just feel like us offering food is such a small gesture compared to what they actually do,” Le said.

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It didn’t take long for other Portland eateries to join in.

Craig Melillo is the owner of Gracie’s Apizza in the St. Johns neighborhood. He’s bringing his talents in the kitchen to the table.

Gracie’s Apizza specializes in wood-fired, east-coast inspired za, while Matta focuses on an American twist to Vietnamese dishes. Two very different types of cuisine, but with the same mission: Fill the bellies of those who are saving lives.

“It’s like the best of both worlds, and we get to feed people that are very, very important in this very weird time,” Melillo said. “It seems like the best use of our time.”

Already they’ve delivered around 350 meals to health care workers at OHSU, Providence and Good Samaritan hospitals in Portland.

RELATED: Hospitals expect to be overwhelmed as COVID-19 approaches peak, watchdog says

“The smile that you see on the nurse’s face…it was so dope. It just really felt like we were doing something meaningful,” Le said.

Despite working in an industry that’s truly hurting right now, these restaurateurs want to help our health care heroes.

“It’s hospitality, you know. I think most people get into cooking food because that’s what we do,” Melillo said.

“Just like, that natural want to take care of people, to nurture somebody, is really a big part of why the industry wants to give back. Even though we’re all really affected by it,” Le said.

Le and Melillo have been able to provide these free meals because of donations from the community. Many are just sending money right to their Venmo accounts. If you’re interested in donating, you can contact either Gracie’s Apizza or Matta online.

Both Le and Melillo will be quick to tell you that they’re not alone in this. Other food trucks and restaurants all over the state are doing what they can to give those in need free meals.

Businesses outside the food industry are also teaming up with restaurants to provide free food. Hasson Company Realtors has raised thousands of dollars to provide hundred of meals.

To learn more about their efforts and how you can help visit: hasson.com

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