Workforce

As corporate employees work from home, Florida Blue finds a way to keep foodservice staffers in the kitchen

The insurance provider has teamed up with a local organization to help prepare meals for area seniors.
Photograph courtesy of Florida Blue

Though Florida Blue has transitioned most of its employees to working from home in response to the coronavirus pandemic, less than 10% continue to come into the office for “mission critical” sorts of tasks, says Damian Monticello, senior manager of hospitality services for the Jacksonville, Fla.-based insurance provider.

To ensure that those few corporate staffers are fed, the company’s foodservice team, managed by Flik, has been producing complimentary boxed lunches. However, that wasn’t enough work to occupy the 40 or so employees that typically prepare 3,000 meals daily across the company’s cafes and limited-service eateries.

As Monticello began to have discussions around what the future would look like for many of those foodservice employees, he was approached by Darnell Smith, Florida Blue’s market president for North Florida. Smith had been contacted by area nonprofit Feeding Northeast Florida, which was hoping that Florida Blue could help the group process some of its recent food donations.

“[Feeding Northeast Florida] had come into a position where a lot of the typical donations they get through grocery stores and things like that … were drying up because everything was going to the shelves themselves and there wasn’t really anything left over,” Monticello says. In addition, the group was receiving food donations from canceled events such as the Players Championship golf tournament, but those ingredients were arriving in bulk quantities that the organization wasn’t able to do much with.

When it came down to whether Florida Blue would assist, “our immediate response was absolutely,” Monticello says. “We have large-scale production kitchens that are sitting idle right now, and producing large quantities is what we’re used to doing on a day-to-day basis.”

A helping hand

In the time since, the Florida Blue team has been receiving deliveries on behalf of Feeding Northeast Florida, which distributes 16 million meals annually via senior centers, homeless shelters and the like.

As a result, the entire foodservice staff has come back on; however, employees are working in smaller shifts of 10 to adhere to CDC recommendations, Monticello says.

The team started out producing and boxing 1,500 meals per day, a number that has since risen to 3,000. They’re crafting full entrees, each of which contains a protein, vegetable and starch. (One recent example: baked mahi with a Caribbean dragonfruit salsa.) Entrees are boxed in twos so recipients get multiple meals at once.

In the beginning of the partnership, making the meals “was definitely like being on an episode of ‘Chopped,’” Monticello says; however, as both sides have figured out the flow of production, his team has a better grasp of what ingredients will be coming in and how to tweak their menus.

“Our staff has been thrilled with the fact that not only are they able to work but they’re able to pay it forward to some other folks who aren’t in as fortunate of a position.” — Damian Monticello

The endeavor has since grown beyond Florida Blue, with several local restaurants supplying their labor and kitchen space in the same way, whether for Feeding Northeast Florida or similar organizations. “It’s something that’s not just our doing anymore,” Monticello says. “It’s really grown out into the rest of the city.”

It’s also something he expects his team to continue through at least the end of May, though he says things may change depending on how the situation with the coronavirus unfolds. “As a company, we’re committed to supporting this endeavor because it’s the proper thing to do given who we are,” he says. “At Florida Blue, we have a mission statement of helping communities and people achieve better health [and] food security, and nutrition is a huge point of emphasis for us.”

In addition to being the right thing from a corporate standpoint, it’s had a positive impact on employees as well.

“Our staff has been thrilled with the fact that not only are they able to work but they’re able to pay it forward to some other folks who aren’t in as fortunate of a position,” Monticello says. “To see the looks on their faces every day knowing that they’re coming in and doing something that’s doing a lot of good for a lot of people, it’s really been a nice breath of fresh air with all the other news that we’ve been dealing with as we go through this crisis.”

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