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We have been watching Covid-19 sweep across the country like an invisible alien death fog claiming hundreds of lives and snuffing out businesses, one by one. Some restaurants intent on survival have changed their menus to delivery-friendly offerings of shawarma, hamburgers and pizza. To save her lunch counter, 34-year-old Naia Gabelia has also chosen delivery, but her strategy is not about what to deliver, but to whom.

Amo Ra is located on the 8th floor of the Gorgasali Business Center in the Ortachala district. Since 2018, the restaurant has been serving the Center’s tenants with tasty alternatives to the neighborhood’s limited khachapuri cafés. Amo Ra’s bread and butter, however, was its catering service, prepared by a small staff of talented cooks and served in the spaces at its disposal to rent for events.

Not dependent on tourists, Amo Ra might have had a chance to beat the coronavirus had the pandemic not sent about half of the Center’s tenants home to work remotely and made private parties impossible to host. Naia, however, was not going to go down without a fight.

“I had to do something to keep our cooks employed,” she stresses.

Watching the second wave of the coronavirus pummel us with daily numbers of new cases bolting from several hundred to a few thousand in a matter of weeks (on the day of writing, it is 3,768), she thought of the healthcare workers on the front lines, a highly underpaid force risking their lives to save ours. “Why not help by feeding them?” she mused.

The average monthly wage for a nurse in Georgia is 500 lari – about $150. Doctors make double that and more, depending on caseloads and specialty, but it’s still peanuts for professionals tasked with saving lives. On October 7, the government announced they were giving doctors in the Covid-19 trenches a 50 percent pay hike, although no mention was made of nurses. Assuming they are included in this raise, an extra $75 a month to care for people infected with a highly contagious deadly disease is hard to applaud.

Naia has come along to not only drop off lunches but also deliver a token of our gratitude to the life-saving work they are doing.

The Head of the National Center for Disease Control, Amiran Gamkrelidze, says the infection rate of medical workers is around six percent, a number reportedly at about 4,000 in total. On November 17, the director of the Tbilisi Infectious Diseases Hospital, Tengiz Tsertsvadze, joined the ranks of the infected. Over 1,800 medical students have been called up to help fight a virus that has killed a total of 894 people. On October 1, the total number of fatalities was 43, slightly more than the number of individuals who have died in the past 24 hours.

Amo Ra’s current menu is a simple daily “business lunch” of soup, salad and a main course that might be a “burrito” wrap, chicken Kiev, or even fajitas. Today’s offering was vegetable soup, beet salad and chicken pasta. Naia accepts 10 lari ($3) donations per meal on Amo Ra’s Facebook page and arranges delivery to one of ten frontline facilities in the city (donors can also request to send lunches to a needy family whom Naia finds through a local NGO). The most recent recipient was a Covid-19 emergency center staffed by 10 workers.

The Covid frontline project is only a couple of weeks old and feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Naia also talks of creating online cooking lessons, but she says the experience of charity work has inspired her to “pivot to provide food to the poor” when the pandemic passes. Before Covid-19, the World Bank statistics put some 14 percent of Georgians below the poverty line. With businesses closing and the tourism industry mothballed, the numbers are expected to get much higher. “There is still a lot to work out,” Naia admits of future plans. It’s not like she can turn her 8th floor café into a soup kitchen with a snap of her fingers.

In the meantime, Georgia’s overworked healthcare workers are knee-deep in a deadly pandemic, and Naia has come along to not only drop off lunches but also deliver a token of our gratitude to the life-saving work they are doing.

Visit Amo Ra’s Facebook page to make a donation, or send money directly to their account at TBC Bank, with the IBAN number GE12TB7105036010300024.

Editor’s note: Our “Essential Services” series highlights the places that are permitted to remain open during lockdowns in order to best nourish their cities.

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