The city of Austin has leased four hotels and purchased another to provide temporary housing for people with underlying health conditions who are experiencing homelessness and are more likely to develop complications if they contract COVID-19.


When the fifth location opens in the coming days, a collection of restaurants that are members of the nonprofit organization Good Work Austin will feed those in need.


Good Work Austin received the contracts as part of the city of Austin Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management’s Protective Lodge program (ProLodge). Members L’Oca d’Oro, Contigo, Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden, Colleen’s Kitchen, Rosedale Kitchen and Bar, the Cavalier and Yard Bar will serve three locally sourced meals a day, delivered to hotel room doors, to 90 people who will be living in the soon-to-open fifth ProLodge property in South Austin.


National catering companies and a third-party vendor sourcing local restaurants have been operating the meal program for the four ProLodge buildings already in operation.


"These are extraordinary times, to put it mildly, so anything we can do to help local business with a different funding stream is an important thing," said Bryce Bencivengo, communications manager for Austin’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. "We have this very specific need for food, and they’re a good fit to meet it."


The city is operating the program using federal money received as part of the CARES Act passed by Congress in March. The ProLodge program has the dual effect of not only feeding at-risk populations but also putting money into the pockets of local restaurants that have suffered economically during the pandemic. City officials said they are not able to say yet what the cost of the contract with Good Work Austin is.


Good Work Austin members also have been contracted to work with the Austin school district, along with Easy Tiger and Henbit, to prepare and deliver 25,000 meals a week to caregivers of students who qualify for free or discounted lunches from the district. That program is scheduled to end in the next month.


The coronavirus pandemic has delivered devastating financial blows to restaurants; some, like L’Oca d’Oro, have continued to keep their dining rooms closed for the sake of public health. The ProLodge and school district programs have helped these participating restaurants generate new sources of income and enabled L’Oca d’Oro to bring back any staff member who wished to return.


"We’re doing this to keep them safe. We’ve been able to not invite guests back into the space, so our employees are able to have jobs where they don’t really have to worry about their own health because it’s basically the same group of people working together every day," L’Oca d’Oro co-owner and Good Work Austin leader Adam Orman said. "And I think it helps a lot for our employees to know that they are a part of something really productive at this time."


Good Work Austin, which started in 2018 and consults members of the Austin hospital industry on issues of health care and management training and liaises with civic leaders, lobbied city and county officials for the contract starting in May.


"They’ve been patient while we’ve worked it out," Bencivengo said. "And I’m thankful that we were approached by them to meet this need in a unique way and hopefully help our community even if it’s just in this little bit."


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