Residents of MHP’s The Bonifant apartment building in Silver Spring, seniors who are limiting their social interactions to protect themselves from exposure to the COVID-19 virus, were treated to donated meals delivered by El Sapo Cuban Social Club in Silver Spring and distributed by resident volunteers.

The delivery resulted from a collaboration that included restaurant owner/chef Raynold Mendizábal of El Sapo and Urban Butcher in Silver Spring, Montgomery County Silver Spring regional service center director Reemberto Rodríguez, and The Bonifant resident Janet Brown, who works at the service center on a volunteer basis.

The Bonifant is a high-rise apartment building constructed by MHP in downtown Silver Spring with support from Montgomery County to provide quality affordable housing in a transit-friendly location. It is home to 170 seniors, many with disabilities. Residents in the most need have been prioritized to receive the donated food.

Brown, an active and typically social senior who celebrated her 80th birthday in December, says residents were particularly thrilled to receive meals from El Sapo. “That is where we go to celebrate” in normal times, she noted. The food is being dropped off at The Bonifant. Volunteer residents in the building, recruited by Brown, deliver it to individual apartments, sanitizing their hands before and after each interaction.

“It is really heartwarming to see our community respond to this crisis in so many innovative ways,” said Rodríguez. “This is a wonderful example of how empathetic our entrepreneurs, faith community, and civic activists can be. The idea is to demonstrate what can works in small ways. Hopefully others will replicate this example and take it to scale.”

In describing his motivation in preparing and sharing free food, Mendizábal said, “I am a human being. This community has been very good to me. It is the least we can do.” He plans to continue the project providing meals, which will be funded through his donation of profits from his restaurants’ takeout and delivery businesses.

He noted he and his staff are working to expand these aspects of his businesses, which are the sole operations under the new Maryland restrictions to limit social interactions to combat potential exposure to Covid-19.

The Bonifant has been taking many steps to protect its residents, sharing information and following protocols recommended by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As seniors, they are particularly vulnerable. Weekly social gatherings are on hold, in accordance with state and Federal guidelines. Onsite staff is cleaning all surfaces in the common areas, lobby, elevator buttons and light switches multiple times daily, and common areas are closed with the exception of restrooms. The building is managed by Humphrey Management.

The response goes beyond cleaning — Bonifant residents are looking out for one another as well. Brown noted that some of her neighbors have limited support systems, so neighbors have been helping neighbors.

“Yesterday a neighbor gave me her phone number because she is able to share with someone in need,” she said. “This virus situation is a bad thing. However, it shows you who people really are. There are beautiful people here at The Bonifant.”

Mendizábal says he is looking to replicate the food donation effort in other ways, scaling it up as vulnerable members of the community continue to cope with financial hardships and constraints on social interactions. If you are interested in getting involved in this or creating a similar community-based effort, contact Mendizábal at 202.246.5083 or raynold@elsaporestaurant.com

Bonifant resident Jan Brown

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