Heroes of the COVID-19: Crisis How Trauma Therapist Dennis Carradin Rallied Hundreds of Volunteers to Feed Workers on the Front Lines

While some may feel the urge to flee the scene of a shooting or the coronavirus pandemic, Dennis Carradin immediately runs toward a catastrophe.

A licensed professional counselor and trauma therapist, a former volunteer firefighter and EMT, Carradin is familiar with helping the families of the victims of recent tragedies.

As such, he stepped up as founder and CEO of The Trauma Survivor’s Foundation to develop the Hospital Heroes Food Drive with Rob Wright of Small Talk Media, to help both closed restaurants and front line workers by bringing nourishment, positivity and kindness to hospital workers.

Today, using his two decades of counseling experience, Carradin is proud to be doing his part during COVID-19 to make a difference and inspire others in his hometown of Philadelphia and around the nation.

Carradin recently shared his story with Medium.

You are no stranger to trauma and tragedy.

That is correct. I was called up to work with the families of the victims, the first responders, and the businesses in the area after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. In three weeks, my team and I saw about 10,000 people.

I have been involved in the major events that have sadly happened since the Columbine shooting in Colorado, when we first started doing this. My specialty is within PTSD and trauma, so we do a lot of the on-scene crisis intervention.

Were you in Orlando, too?

I was down there for the Pulse nightclub shooting for three weeks to a month. I was down there for the Parkland shooting, the Las Vegas shooting, the Navy shipyard shooting; My kids always say, “Yeah, our dad goes where stuff blows up!”

How does this affect you emotionally?

I couldn’t be that “normal” therapist who sits in the office all day and talks to people — even though I have my practice and I do that — but my specialty is working with police, fire and emergency medical personnel. I was a volunteer firefighter and EMT for a couple of decades, and I like that immediate response. When you’re helping somebody on the worst day of their life, you can effectively change within moments what’s going to happen for them.

I offset it with things like the Hospital Heroes Food Drive because, to me, even though it’s a lot of work, with days of 8 to 10 deliveries, it feels so good. Even though you can’t see through the mask, you know people are smiling. We had people who were crying because they were just so happy. So, I try to offset the horrible days with those good times where I’m fairly rapidly affecting change.

One aspect of the work you are doing with the Hospital Heroes Food Drive is that the meal shows that someone cares.

Absolutely. We started this when Laura, my fiancée, a nurse at Jefferson Hospital, was working the COVID testing unit. This was the week after St. Patrick’s Day; right when the shutdown began. I asked if she needed me to bring anything and she said someone had delivered pizzas to the emergency department but there weren’t enough to feed the entire staff. There was a clear need for food, and more of it. I said, “This can’t happen, not on my watch. You guys need to eat.”

So, you sprang into action?

For that first delivery, I called Robert Wright the owner of Small Talk Radio and Jon Schaffer from Flight Entertainment and we figured out what restaurants were still open in Philadelphia. I said that the foundation wants to pay for a meal to give to the front-line workers at Jefferson Hospital.

We just wanted to take care of people, then it grew into not only taking care of them physically with great meals, but also doing so emotionally and mentally. Early on, we were the only ones doing it. Now I am so happy that there are several other groups doing it, too. During a recent weekend, we did a delivery on Friday night to Engine 40/Ladder 4/Medic 19 of the Philadelphia Fire Department. That marked the 10,000th meal that we put out and the 1000th KN95 mask we donated, and we are getting amazing feedback. Nobody’s going to look at you and be angry when you hand them excellent meals. They are so thankful that somebody cares. It’s absolutely amazing.

Rob Wright was in the background doing the websites, and eventually, we told him how great it would feel if he rolled up his sleeves. For his first delivery, we partnered with KFC, which gave us 500 meals for four different hospitals, first for lunch, and then more meals later that night, and Rob couldn’t stop smiling the whole day. He would see how amazing it felt. Yeah, that was phenomenal.

You didn’t do this alone. I know you have a lot of volunteers. Talk about finding goodness in this dark time.

A lot of our folks have worked in the service industry, and if you go to The Trauma Survivors Foundation and The Hospital Heroes Food Drive website, the names of all the restaurants, their logos, and where to go are there. I applaud them because they just wanted to help. Our restaurant partners immediately stepped up, and I think they did so not just because they knew that we were going to pay for the meals, but to be included in something good. It started with Lucha Cartel in Old City when the owner, Paul Brown, gave me a call. He said he was shutting down because he couldn’t pay his staff, but he was making and donating 200 burritos to us and wanted us to get them to the hospital workers. I was stunned.

Then what happened?

With Hospital Heroes, we stipulated that the meals could not cost more than $6 because we didn’t know how many donations we were going to get. Every restaurant not only gave us the meal for $6 or less, but they gave us a full meal. Often it was a sandwich and two side dishes. Then Brendan McGrew, the owner of at Bourbon Blue started serving up jambalaya, cornbread, chicken and dumplings, and a side dish, and other restauranteurs started getting into it.

Then Brendan made a little coalition in Manayunk with five other restaurants and he got a donation from US Foods for a month’s worth of food for some 60 to 100 meals, in which we were just literally picking up meals from a restaurant, putting them on social media, and delivering to nursing homes that had not received anything. St. Ignatius was one of them and we donated 200 full meals to their staff. They had the crushing blow of losing 60 of their patients to COVID-19.

Next, we had Johnny McDonald’s construction group call me and say the guys were out of work because construction was halted, and they asked if they could volunteer to deliver the meals. I asked how many guys he had and was told 200 to 300. It was awesome! And then we had a lot of first responders around Delaware. We had firefighters and police officers who stepped up and volunteered. It’s basically had a snowball effect, because when it comes down to it, people just wanted to help.

Food is such a basic way to reach one another. I have been impressed with so many initiatives around the nation to provide school lunches and help the increasing number of people who are unemployed, at-risk and homeless. And this all started because someone you loved wasn’t getting fed. When you have one of your own, whether it is your family member, a member of your church or synagogue, or someone else you care about who is in pain, you want to help them. We don’t do anything small around here.

How does this relief effort tie in so well with your trauma work?

My job is based on working with trauma and tragedy, and it’s immediate. I absolutely love doing this. It’s funny, for almost 30 plus years I have been going to St. Anthony’s Italian Festival in Wilmington, Delaware, to flip pizza. So
, I have always fed people. As an Italian Catholic, I see food as being synonymous with love. Handing people a meal who are literally risking their lives for us, and seeing their appreciation is all the thanks I need. That definitely keeps me going.

So, then when I come back to the practice or I go on a crisis scene or whatever it is, and we’re just getting that negativity I go back to the restaurants and hospitals knowing I have helped those folks and how thankful they are for it, and that’s truthfully what I’m getting out of it. You really don’t get a lot of notoriety out of this, because we’re all wearing masks, so we all kind of look alike these days.

How are we as individuals, communities and our nation going to emerge changed from the coronavirus health pandemic?

That is a great question that we are starting to address. I live in Glen Mills, and my absolute favorite brunch spot is The Classic Diner in West Chester. The other day we drove into West Chester and I was blown away because no one in the area was wearing masks, except for me and the staff at The Classic. Later, we dropped off the KN95 masks to one of our restaurant partners at the Manayunk Tavern, and right next to them is the Bayou Bar & Grill, where people were standing around without masks, and to me, it felt surreal.

So, as a man embroiled in the world of trauma, what will the aftermath of COVID-19 look like?

I think you’re going to see the humbling of America. I think businesses will permanently close, which we have already started seeing. I think you’re going to see not just — social distancing but social isolation. You’re going to see people preferring to work at home and not really wanting to go out because of fear.

What else is involved?

When it comes to my working on the private side with patients, we’ve seen an uptick of anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts. I’ve tried to reserve taking a lot of new patients right now because of the work we’re doing with The Hospital Heroes. I’m stationed at a distribution center giving the news to workers that they were tested COVID-19 positive and seeing people dying after this positive testing. When you see the ugly side of this virus, it really starts making you think about how vulnerable people are.

How long will you keep doing this food delivery outreach?

Until the end. Until we get the all-clear and even after that we want to continue the program after that in some way, even if it’s only to do special appearances — like a surprise appearance to a hospital once a week or so.

I find with our crisis treatment that everybody rushes in at the beginning, they try to help out and they try to do something, which is laudable. We’ve been doing this since the beginning, and we haven’t stopped. I have five more deliveries this week. We want to keep this going to appreciate the people who are working so hard to save lives. That’s why we started The Trauma Survivors Foundation. We saw that people rushed in at the beginning to help our trauma survivors, to help the folks involved in the crisis, but the follow up wasn’t there.

If my readers want to help, what can they do to become involved?

We have our donation link on The Trauma Survivor’s Foundation. We want everyone to know that we are here to follow up; that’s what we are all about. We will continue what we’re doing throughout COVID-19, throughout this pandemic. I talked to Rob and said I want this to continue indefinitely, but in a different form, so we will see.

Debra Wallace uses her 25 years of writing, editing and interviewing experience to bring thought-provoking and memorable copy to her readers. Her specialty areas are entertainment, special needs parenting, business, and health and wellness. She is a contributing writer for Parade.com, Medium/Authority, Suburban Life, Orlando Family, and several other print and digital publications. Debra is also a staunch autism advocate and helps raise money for specialized sensory friendly programs as well as increasing awareness so that all children are accepted and treated with kindness.