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“Protect the people on the frontlines” with Grey Cohen

The Meal Bridge hopes to address how our frontline and essential workers have been treated during this pandemic. I think it is unreasonable that politicians are making this situation political instead of doing everything they can to protect the people on the frontlines. There are lots of things we can do to solve this problem. […]

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The Meal Bridge hopes to address how our frontline and essential workers have been treated during this pandemic. I think it is unreasonable that politicians are making this situation political instead of doing everything they can to protect the people on the frontlines. There are lots of things we can do to solve this problem. Number one, our community can wear masks. Masks aren’t meant to protect you, they are meant to protect other people. You don’t care about getting the coronavirus, fine, but don’t put others at risk who do care. Number two, our society can listen to scientists.

As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Grey Cohen. Grey is 17 years old and was born and currently lives in Atlanta Georgia. She lives with her parents, sister, and dog, Olive. Grey is a high school junior at Druid Hills High School. There, she is on the cross country and lacrosse teams. She is an active participant at her school in clubs and volunteer opportunities.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?

I was born and currently live in Atlanta, Georgia. I am a high school junior at Druid Hills High School. I live with my parents, younger sister, and our dog.

You are currently leading an organization that aims to make a social impact. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?

The Meal Bridge is a platform that allows people to donate a meal from a local restaurant directly to hospital staff working on the front lines of the coronavirus. Donors go to our website, sign up for a unit to feed, and personally order food from a restaurant to be sent to the hospital staff. This platform provides a way for people to show their appreciation for our healthcare staff and also support local restaurants.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

At the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic, my Uncle asked my Mother if he could buy pizzas for a shift at Emory Hospital, where she works as a Speech Pathologist. What began as one good deed, made me wonder if I could amplify that initiative. With friends and family in both the restaurant and healthcare fields, we were witnessing first-hand the growing impact of the coronavirus. I thought a website could provide a platform to help both.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

The U.S. was just starting to deal with the pandemic. I wanted to help and that call from my Uncle was the spark that got my idea going. Developing the platform was interestingly the easiest part. With the help of my father, an advertising creative, we created a name, a logo, and a basic website in a very short time. According to my father, thanks to a streamlined, cross-kitchen-table approval process, what usually takes months, we knocked out in days. And because my mother works at Emory University Hospital, she was able to identify the units and shifts that needed to be fed as they worked long hours.

Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?

I’d start with an idea you are passionate about. Creating a project takes creativity and when you are emotionally invested in the cause, the ideas will come easier. Then I’d choose a name. And if the idea will use the internet, I’d buy a domain name and build a simple website. These steps help you build the foundation from which you can grow your project. Once you have your foundation, then it’s time to outline how your project will work. The most important thing is making it simple and easy to use. You understand your project’s objective, but sometimes it’s hard to communicate the idea effectively with everyone else. To make sure your project works smoothly, make the platform straightforward, and easily navigable. These are the most important steps to getting your project started and some of the best tips I got while I created The Meal Bridge.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

In May, I got an email from NPR asking if I was interested in doing an interview with Rose Scott. As a teenager, this might be slightly unusual, but I love listening to NPR. I grew up listening to it with my parents whenever we were in the car and now that I can drive I still listen to it all the time. I’ve always loved Rose Scott’s Closer Look segment. When I got an email asking for an interview I was blown away. This person I had grown up listening to on the radio was going to be talking to me! That was definitely my favorite interview and also a turning point in The Meal Bridge. This interview provided lots of exposure to people in the Atlanta area and donations sped up after it aired. I am so thankful for the opportunity it gave the program and also the chance to talk with Rose Scott.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?

I did not have a bio on the website. I was contacted by a reporter from the Atlanta Journal. As we began the interview, I told him I was a sophomore in High School. He was definitely surprised that he was interviewing a 16 year old. I learned that age doesn’t have to be a factor in creating something new and positive. We never ended up adding a bio because I didn’t want this program to be about me. The person behind the scenes wasn’t who mattered, it was the frontline workers. It’s still funny whenever I get a call about the program and the person is surprised by my age. I hope when people realize the platform was started by someone so young, it shows them that it doesn’t matter who you are, we all have the power to make a difference.

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

Well, I was lucky, my parents work in just the right fields to make this happen. My father is an advertising creative, who helped me create a name, logo, and website. My mother works at Emory Hospital and she was able to help with communication with the hospitals. With their help and the support of my sister, I was able to get this project going. One person I met along the way was Anita who ran an organization called Feed the Frontlines Georgia. She contacted me around the beginning of The Meal Bridge and introduced herself as a college student in Georgia working to feed frontline workers like myself. Our platforms operated a bit differently but we both had the same objective, supporting the frontline. We started chatting about our experiences creating these

programs and shared stories and advice. Anita became a great person to talk to about this journey and we were even able to collaborate. Her program is listed on our website under other foundations to support so our donors have access to her program as well. She was a great support system during this project because she understood all the things I was doing to keep The Meal Bridge running. We had the same troubles and worked out solutions together. I am so grateful for the advice and support Anita provided during this experience.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

Instead of a particular individual, I have a story of a restaurant we helped. At the beginning of quarantine, we saw a spike in furloughed and laid off workers. This was happening in chain restaurants and mom and pop stores. A couple of months into this project, I got a call from Panera in Emory Village. They called to tell me they had actually taken workers off furlough and brought them back to work because of the business The Meal Bridge had generated for them. Hearing this made me so happy. This showed me the real impact we were making with The Meal Bridge. I was grateful to my community for the outpouring of support they brought and knowing that we were making a difference in the lives of not only healthcare staff, but restaurant employees as well.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

The Meal Bridge hopes to address how our frontline and essential workers have been treated during this pandemic. I think it is unreasonable that politicians are making this situation political instead of doing everything they can to protect the people on the frontlines. There are lots of things we can do to solve this problem. Number one, our community can wear masks. Masks aren’t meant to protect you, they are meant to protect other people. You don’t care about getting the coronavirus, fine, but don’t put others at risk who do care. Number two, our society can listen to scientists. Our country has turned into a place where opinions are just as good as facts. Well, they aren’t. The only facts you should listen to are ones from scientists. A newscaster should not be dictating our response to a virus outbreak. We must listen to scientists if we hope to repair and protect our country. Number three, politicians need to pass relief bills. It is our government’s job to provide relief for people in need of support due to the pandemic. It is not acceptable for our government to hold up relief funds because they want bailouts for big corporations. This is not a political game, it is real people’s lives, and it needs to be treated as such. If we can do these three things, then I hope a teenager’s effort to feed our frontline workers won’t be necessary anymore.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1. Running a charity takes a lot of time and patience. The first night after we posted the link to The Meal Bridge on Facebook, only 3 people had signed up. I was scared that this program I believed could help others wouldn’t live up to its full potential. However, not three days later I had my first interview, and donations had tripled. I learned you can’t rush things.

2. You need to set boundaries for your work. Some days I would be answering emails at eleven at night and that’s just unnecessary. No one is going to answer their emails at eleven at night. I had to learn to put away Meal Bridge work after dinner and know that it was better to be well rested than check my inbox.

3. Don’t stress the little things. I got an angry email once from someone unhappy with how our website functioned and claimed it was too complicated. That stressed me out and made me want to overhaul the whole system and start over. I had to remind myself, though, that I had also gotten many compliments on the easy navigability of the website and I needed to not freak out when one person was unhappy with what I’d created.

4. Lean on others. A project like this is hard to get going and hard to keep up with. It was important for me to rely on my parents for help and guidance. They granted me reprieve sometimes when I was overwhelmed with calls or when I needed to communicate with a hospital. Learning that it was okay to ask for help allowed me to focus on the most important aspects rather than be overwhelmed with the whole of it.

5. Your best is all you can do. When donations would go into a lull, I would get stressed that we wouldn’t be able to provide as many meals as I wanted. I had to understand I did what I could, I put the platform out there, and I couldn’t force people to donate. I was appreciative of the donations that we did get and knew that everyone did their best.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

Knowing you did something to help others is a good feeling. Life is hard and you will struggle, but having stories of times when something you did made another’s life better can help you through tough moments. Making an impact on your community gives you confidence and teaches you kindness in a way few other things can.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂 Michelle Obama, Oprah, Hillary

I would love to have lunch with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She is a role model for young girls who want to see a change in our country. She speaks truth to power which is incredibly refreshing. AOC calls out corruption within our federal government and pushes real issues into the limelight. Congress is not the place for making the rich richer, it’s the house of the people and should function as such. AOC is at the front of the wave of our younger generations who are coming together to heal this country. I think she is inspiring. I am interested in politics and things of that nature for my future so she is someone I look up to.

How can our readers follow you online?

Our Instagram is @themealbrige and our Facebook @themealbridge

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