At Bakersfield's sprawling Comprehensive Blood and Cancer Center, multimillion dollar technology fills entire rooms: MRIs, CT scans, PET imaging, radiation therapy, cyber knife treatments and more.
But in a wing of the building not far from its front door, employees and volunteers have been cooking up treatments for more common ailments — like food insecurity, hunger and want.
Since early June, the Ravi & Naina Patel Foundation, CBCC's charitable and philanthropic arm created by its founders, has been preparing and serving 200 to 300 meals per day, five days a week, for distribution to local homeless individuals in metro Bakersfield.
"We understand people need the basics first," said Dr. Naina Patel, whom patients refer to as "Dr. Naina" to differentiate her from her husband, Dr. Ravi Patel, the director of CBCC.
"We want to spread happiness as much as possible. That's the main purpose of the foundation," she said.
The foundation helps fund medical research, makes donations to charities and educational institutions, provides scholarships and more. But the Patels recognized the Coronavirus pandemic as an emergency that required a rapid response and a different way of thinking.
Naina has always been intent on offering a holistic approach to health care at CBCC. And providing the human body with balanced, nutritious meals is as basic as it gets.
The formation of the cafe at CBCC was always part of that philosophy, offering fresh, organic foods free to CBCC employees.
One day, they came to the center's Executive Chef Gian Roaquin with the idea of expanding his job description — to include feeding the homeless.
"This is what I love to do," said Roaquin. "It keeps me busy, keeps me creative. And it helps people at the same time."
The meals are made right there at CBCC's Health and Wellness Cafe by Roaquin and his kitchen crew. Volunteers serve them into individual meal containers, which are sealed, bagged and picked up by two nonprofit community partners that distribute the meals to individuals in areas where it is hoped they will do the most good.
The local CityServe affiliate distributes 1,000 of the meals each week, and 200 additional meals are distributed by action teams organized by Flood Ministries.
That’s 1,200 meals a week going out to local people in need.
"We're really thankful to the Patels," said Jim Wheeler, executive director of Flood Ministries. "It's a real blessing to us."
With the spread of COVID-19, a strong emphasis has been placed on the prevention of outbreaks in homeless encampments and other places homeless people may seek shelter, Wheeler said.
"We use the meals as a tool to keep in contact with and communicate with the homeless. That regular contact allows Flood's action teams to offer other resources and information to those living without basic necessities."
While these meals are distributed in metro Bakersfield, Flood Ministries has seven different action teams that go out every day, including into outlying communities.
While COVID-19 has certainly brought additional problems in Flood's efforts to serve the underserved, it has also created opportunities, Wheeler said.
"I think people have been more open to listening to us and what we offer through our services," he said.
In the meantime, CBCC and the Patels plan to continue their effort, even as they consider new and creative ways to make a positive impact in the community.
And when people read about it, said Ravi Patel, maybe ideas will spread.
"Hopefully," he said, "this inspires others."