BERKELEY (KPIX) - An East Bay neighborhood has banded together to feed those most vulnerable to COVID-19. This week's Jefferson Award winner is leading the effort.
Thanks to HelpBerkeley, 84-year-old Sara Knight gets a special delivery.
"I have delicious meals I don't have to worry about," Knight said.
Co-founder and CEO Michel Thouati says the nonprofit ensures senior citizens sheltering at home don't go hungry.
"It's really moving. I get teary-eyed when I think about it," Thouati said.
He and several neighbors launched HelpBerkeley quickly at the start of the pandemic.
Volunteer Leonardo Pierotti praises Thouati's experience in starting tech companies.
"He made it possible in ten days to do what no one else has been able to do," said Pierotti.
People over the age of 60 who are vulnerable to coronavirus can order two restaurant meals by phone or online for free delivery.
The discounted total ten dollars plus tax keeps older adults fed and restaurants open.
The first delivery underscored the critical need.
"The customer told her she hadn't had a warm meal in two months," Thouati said.
HelpBerkeley has delivered more than 25,000 meals to more than a thousand residents, mainly in Berkeley, Albany and Kensington. The program works with 20 local restaurants and 400 volunteers who bring food and a crucial connection.
"These are people who've been isolated for many months, some of almost a year," Thouati said.
So volunteers often spend time chatting with customers from a distance as they deliver their meals.
Customer Sunah Cherwin is grateful.
"I'm very happy to be involved with people who have so much brightness going on in their lives," Cherwin.
HelpBerkeley partnered with Chef Joan Gallagher of Nourish You to provide hundreds of holiday meals for free.
Thouati is now fundraising to partner with other groups to offer more food free of charge.
"He's got a huge heart," Gallagher said. "It's all about finding solutions, like 'okay, this isn't working,' so he constantly needs to tweak things to make things happen."
LEARN MORE: Jefferson Awards for Public Service
Thouati also says he's willing to train neighbors in other cities to replicate or expand the model for the meal program and he's humbled serving with caring volunteers.
"We meet people who are self-selected for goodness. They're all people who want to make a difference," Thouati said.
So, for delivering discounted meals to vulnerable seniors during the pandemic, this week's Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Michel Thouati.
To donate to Thouati's new campaign to add more free meals for those who cannot afford them:
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