Uber Driver Delivers $12K in Food to Tenn. Hospital After Nurse Passenger Says She's Hungry

"Feeding people has always been my love language," says Tammy Rivera of donating over $12,000 worth of food to the local hospital staff

uber driver helps nurses
Photo: Larry Kuzniewsk

An Uber driver recently went the extra mile to ensure that the front line workers at her local hospital taking care of others amid the coronavirus pandemic were also being cared for themselves.

During her shift on March 20, Uber driver Tammy Rivera tells PEOPLE she picked up a nurse who was getting off of work at Methodist Le Bonheur Germantown Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.

While in the car, the nurse told Rivera, 57, that she was hungry and wasn’t getting the chance to eat while caring for the COVID-19 patients at the hospital.

“She said she was starving and asked to stop at McDonald’s, or somewhere to eat,” Rivera recalls. “We just talked and I learned what her circumstances were at the hospital, and how she was working 12-14 hour shifts. The cafeteria isn’t open 24 hours a day, and she was working overnight.”

“[When she said she was hungry,] it really stuck with me,” adds Rivera. “It got my brain going — what can I do and how can I fix this? I wanted to find a way to feed the people that are in the most danger right now, those in the ER and in the COVID unit.”

uber driver helps nurses
Larry Kuzniewsk
Tammy Rivera
Tammy Rivera

Tapping into her southern roots and love for food, Rivera decided that she would start a fundraiser and ask her community for money to purchase meals that she could bring the hospital staff.

“I’m southern, so feeding people has always been my love language. It’s who I am,” she explains. “I simply put my Venmo information on the Germantown community Facebook page.”

Within two hours, Rivera had managed to raise enough money for the first night’s meal. Since then, she has kept up her efforts, with Thursday evening marking her 27th consecutive delivery and over $12,000 raised in food funds.

“While there have been some large donations, 95 percent of them have been $10,” explains Rivera, who is now feeding 50-60 staffers per night. “It has been hundreds of people in the community wanting to help.”

“When money started getting low, I just put out an update and then we were once again fully funded for another two weeks,” she continues. “This is our amazing community. I’m just helping them help others.”

uber driver helps nurses
Tammy Rivera

Rivera says the meals have varied each night and include everything from pizza and catfish dinners, to roast chicken with grits.

On Easter, she delivered a special dinner for the hospital staff, and has even enlisted the help of the local Girl Scout troop, who donated their signature cookies to the cause.

“So many incredible local groups and restaurants are so loving and giving,” Rivera says, adding that it hasn’t been surprising to see the community rally around their first responders.

“That’s what Memphis does,” she explains. “Whenever you talk to somebody about this city, Memphis hospitality comes first.”

uber driver helps nurses
Tammy Rivera
uber driver helps nurses
Tammy Rivera

For every delivery she makes, Rivera says the hospital staff has been incredibly grateful.

“[They have] big smiles. I could see them even behind the masks!” she jokes. “They were so thankful.”

And while the gesture has been very special for the first responders, Rivera says it’s also left an impact on her.

“Every night I pull away with tears,” says Rivera, who has been working for Uber since 2017. “There is such appreciation for such a small act. It’s amazing.”

Looking toward the future, Rivera says she expects to deliver food to Methodist Le Bonheur Germantown Hospital as long as people keep giving.

“I have no plans to stop,” she explains. “I will stop when there is no need or no more money, but our community just keeps giving. And I can’t wait to collect on all the hugs we haven’t been able to give each other.”

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She also hopes that people take away one main message from her story: that being kind doesn’t cost a thing.

“Kindness is free, it is the easiest thing to give,” she shares. “Oprah [Winfrey] used to say it best about why she would go out and do so much for people — what little you give, you get back one hundred-fold, and it is so true.”

“I am my best person when I’m doing for others,” she adds.

As of Friday, there have been at least 681,727 cases and 31,647 deaths attributed to coronavirus in the United States, according to the The New York Times. In Tennessee, there have been at least 6,090 cases and 144 deaths reported, according to the Times.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. PEOPLE has partnered with GoFundMe to raise money for the COVID-19 Relief Fund, a GoFundMe.org fundraiser to support everything from frontline responders to families in need, as well as organizations helping communities. For more information or to donate, click here.

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