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Featured Image: Dana Point community members come together to collect individually wrapped snacks to donate to health care providers at Mission Hospitals. Photo: Courtesy of Toni Nelson

By Breeana Greenberg

Amid the recent surge of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, Dana Point residents have relaunched a local program to support health care providers.

Hugs for Heroes aims to support local health care providers at Mission Hospitals in Mission Viejo and Laguna Beach. The project is supported by the City of Dana Point, Capo Cares, Capo Beach Church and participating Dana Point restaurants such as Jon’s Fish Market, Brio Tuscany Grille, and Pepi’s Sports Bar and Grill.

Capo Beach Church has also been an involved community partner, agreeing to handle administration of the donations, as well as providing free space for community meetings.

The Dana Point Woman’s Club and the Monarch Bay Sunrise Rotary Club have also begun fundraisers among their members to donate to the cause.

According to Toni Nelson, the Hugs for Heroes founder, 650 meals, carloads of bulk snacks, and encouraging notes were delivered to hospitals last year.

“With Omicron surging, hospital beds filling and staff shortages to contend with, our local hospital workers are definitely ready for a hug,” Nelson wrote in an email. “This is another great example of how our community pulls together for a cause. Every dime goes directly to meals for health care workers. Administrative costs are absorbed by the City of Dana Point, Capo Beach Church and yours truly.”

Family-owned restaurant Pepi’s Sports Bar and Grill participated last year and joined in the effort again. Pepi Stoicheva and her husband make and deliver the meals themselves.

Shala O’Keefe, owner of Jon’s Fish Market, prepares meals to donate to health care providers. Photo: Courtesy of Toni Nelson

“We just like to help out,” Stoicheva said. “We do it because during these hard times, it’s nice to help out … it’s nice to get a hot meal delivered.”

Jon’s Fish Market, which has served Dana Point residents for more than 41 years, donated snack boxes and dinner boxes for the whole Mission Hospital staff last year and is preparing to do it again.

With the seafood restaurant’s long history in Dana Point, owner Shala O’Keefe said that it was important she get the restaurant involved in giving back to the community.

“The one thing that remained pretty much open, messy but open, was restaurant services,” O’Keefe said. “Some people couldn’t even go home because they were on shifts for so long there in the hospital. They couldn’t go home, especially during the beginning of COVID.”

With the recent Omicron surge and staffing shortages across hospitals, O’Keefe felt it was important that the community show their support for health care providers.

“We’re really thankful for the health care industry; they are heroes, for sure,” O’Keefe said. “We love them, and we’re here for them.”

Those who wish to participate in this ongoing program are urged to donate to Hugs for Heroes at capobeachchurch.churchcenter.com/giving or text HUGS to 949.284.8181.

Ten dollars can cover a meal, packaging and delivery. Residents can also drop off notes of appreciation and encouragement, and bulk, individually wrapped, unrefrigerated snacks at the Dana Point Community Center, 34052 Del Obispo Street, Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Breeana Greenberg is the city reporter for the Dana Point Times. She graduated from Chapman University with a bachelor of arts degree in English. Before joining Picket Fence Media, she worked as a freelance reporter with the Laguna Beach Independent. Breeana can be reached by email at bgreenberg@picketfencemedia.com

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