Thanking Health Workers With Gifts of Food


Stacy Rotner, an attorney by training who has spent a decade heading the philanthropy and corporate citizenship arm of a prominent Manhattan law firm, has proved during the last two months that she is a better fundraiser than prognosticator.

As she watched the TV reports of overtaxed frontline medical personnel here in early April as the coronavirus pandemic spread and the number of hospitalizations grew, Rotner decided she wanted to help.

She called a friend, Dr. David Kessler, a pediatric emergency room physician at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, who was recruited to deal with Covid-19 patients. “Would sending meals help?” she asked. Yes, he said — since hospital cafeterias and many local restaurants were closed, doctors and nurses working extended shifts had few food options.

Finding no current organization to her liking, Rotner used her legal and administrative background to raise money for meals for doctors and nurses, the frontline healthcare workers in intensive care units and emergency rooms.

GratiFoodNYC (“Sending Gratitude through Food”), a grassroots initiative, was born.

Rotner thought she would raise, through Facebook, $6,000 to provide 70 meals at three local hospitals.

Instead, she raised, $65,000 for 6,000 meals at a dozen medical centers, purchasing meals from several local restaurants and caterers.

“I’m a doer,” says Rotner, whose altruistic interest grew out of an eight-month pro-bono externship in which she participated while practicing as an associate in her law firm’s (Sidley Austin LLP) investment management group in 2009. “I was raised with a strong sense of tzedakah.”

A Westchester native, she lives on Manhattan’s East Side and is an active member of Congregation B’nai Jeshurun.

With her original goal well surpassed and with coronavirus hospitalizations here decreasing, she has turned her attention to the wider crisis of food insecurity in New York City. With an initial goal of $100,000, which has grown to $1 million, she is raising money on behalf of New York Common Pantry, a nonprofit that includes a soup kitchen, two food pantries in East Harlem and the South Bronx and more than 100 food distribution locations.

While organizing and running GratiFoodNYC from her apartment, “I was basically working two full-time jobs,” Rotner says.

With whatever free time she had left, Rotner, a world traveler, thought she would learn Italian online. She took one lesson. Then GratiFoodNYC took up her time. “I didn’t get to learn Italian.”