Support for Brownie’s Café and Our Colleagues Uptown

This week, thanks to the History Department, a campus culinary institution began sending 50 to 70 meals every day to Medical Center workers.

Scott Schell
April 16, 2020

Columbia University is stepping up in more ways than one during this pandemic. Residence halls are being handed over to healthcare workers, the Baker Field Bubble has been converted to a hospital and Commencement ponchos are being donated to the city for use as surgical gowns. Now a group of professors has found a way to support Columbia’s frontline medical workers while at the same time sustaining a campus culinary institution.

Leave it to our History faculty to spot a fruitful connection hiding in plain sight. The doctors, nurses and medical staff toiling heroically in the bustle and glare of emergency rooms and makeshift ICUs at our Medical Center campus were in need of tasty lunches and dinners. The darkened basement of Avery Hall was evidence that Brownie’s Café, the popular independent sandwich shop, was shut and struggling to provide work for its loyal employees.

Mae Ngai, Columbia’s Lung Family Professor of Asian American Studies and Professor of History and a regular Brownie’s patron, hatched the idea of raising money through a GoFundMe campaign to put Brownie’s to work by feeding caregivers with CUIMC’s Emergency Medicine and ORICU-Anesthesiology medical services.

Joined by History Department chair Adam J. Kosto; history professors Manan Ahmed, Alma Steingart and Victoria DeGrazia; history administrative director Patricia Morel; and Professor of Architecture Laura J. Kurgan, Professor Ngai and her colleagues quickly raised more than $30,000 from over 400 donors. This week Brownie’s began sending 50 to 70 meals every day to our Medical Center workers.

For Brownie’s, the work is a lifeline as well as a rewarding experience. In a note sent earlier this week to the campaign organizers and participating faculty and staff, the Brownie’s team expressed their gratitude: “You have enabled us to work with the highest sense of purpose, to feed our dedicated health care professionals during this unprecedented time. You have boosted our morale and have created a sense of family, during a time when we all need that more than ever.”

Once again, History teaches the power of a good idea.