Food for the Soul Voices conspires to bring cheer to healthcare workers

| Pie by Michelle Lee


By Joe Livernois

Voices of Monterey Bay delivered fresh-baked apple pies and restaurant gift certificates to front-line healthcare warriors in Salinas on Saturday.

The delivery was in response to a recent essay by Betsy Pua’ala Mount we shared with readers. Mount is a nurse at Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital who wrote passionately about what she encounters at work during this recent spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths. And she wrote of how she is bolstered by the radiant smile of a co-worker, Mylene Peralta.


Mount got her vaccine Saturday

We offered Mount a small stipend for allowing us to run her essay, but she declined to accept one. So we conspired to show our gratitude in another way, patching together an epicurean gift package for Mount and her colleagues.

First we commissioned our favorite celebrity baker, Michelle Lee, to prepare four apple pies that Mount could share with the nurses, doctors, clinicians and others at SVMH. Lee has been baking freelance since losing her kitchen job earlier this year because of COVID, creating her own small business she cleverly calls Michelle Kneads Dough.

Voices profiled Lee several months ago as she was a contestant on a Halloween-themed competition on the Food Network.

Then, as is often the case with fate and good fortune, Phil DiGirolamo dropped in to help. In this case, DiGirolamo had responded to a Facebook post I had made about a relatively minor customer-service issue I experienced at his iconic Moss Landing restaurant. (I refer to my inconvenience at Phil’s as “minor” in respect to the pain and suffering Mount and Peralta deal with every day at work.) DiGirolamo wanted to “make it right,” so I mentioned what Voices was doing to thank Mount and the other angels at SVMH. He volunteered to send gift certificates to Phil’s Fish Market we could deliver with Lee’s pies. And when we received his gift in the mail, we saw that he had doubled his original promise of certificates.

And Voices was able to deliver our small token of appreciation to Mount and Peralta. It was a quick exchange in the parking lot in front of the hospital entrance; visitors aren’t allowed inside. Mount and Peralta both came out to collect our gifts and we were able to meet them for the first time, face-to-face. Or at least mask-to-mask. They had both recently received their COVID vaccination, so we naturally asked them about it.


Mount and Peralta admire Michelle Lee's pie

“It was a life-changer,” Peralta told me, a glimmer of hope for health workers who have been tending to so much sickness and too many deaths in recent weeks. Peralta then spoke emotionally of the number of families who will spend their Christmas holidays in grief because of the virus, of the thousands of patients who will have survived but who will now deal with compromised health issuess in the coming months or years.

The recent patient counts — the death counts — are grim in Monterey County. On Sunday state health officials reported that 171 patients were in one of four hospitals in the county seeking treatment for the virus, and 30 of them have been admitted to intensive care units. Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital’s staff were treating 78 COVID patients on Sunday.

And 177 Monterey County residents have succumbed due to COVID-19 since the pandemic started.

Mount and Peralta are first-hand witnesses to the ravages of the virus whenever they show up for another 12-hour shift. And yet, at the same time the nurses were providing care in an overloaded hospital, a collection of maskless boneheads were lining a street corner in Carmel to protest public health protocols.

Our healthcare system may be broken. And there are plenty of human monsters we can blame for allowing the daily COVID death toll to increase as it has. But we should never forget to honor, elevate and celebrate the soldiers who are risking their own health to heal those who can heal and to comfort the dying during this battle with COVID-19. 

“It’s so disheartening to see ages across the spectrum intubated, paralyzed and proned, one by one like a domino effect,” Mount wrote earlier this month. “One day you had them the next day they’re tubed. You can feel it in the pit of your stomach that it’s inevitable; maybe not today, maybe tomorrow.”

The pandemic’s growth might be a product of our idiot human tendency to satisfy our base selfishness. But Mount and Peralta are among the legions of warriors and heroes who fight daily in defense of kindness and humanity.

Gifts certificates and apple pies are quick-fix goodies to feed the soul and to show our support, but we can best honor our front-line health workers when we wear masks and we limit our exposure.

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Joe Livernois

About Joe Livernois

Joe Livernois has been a reporter, editor and columnist in Monterey County for 35 years.

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