Jefferson Awards for Public ServiceBy Allen Martin

By Allen Martin and Jennifer Mistrot

SAN PABLO (KPIX 5) — On a recent summer day, Jennifer Arrouzet delivered donated hot meals to San Pablo first responders. It’s one of many acts of charity she and her husband Todd have done for others in the East Bay. And it’s an activity she is grateful to be able to do.

In March, the Arrouzets came down with what doctors thought was COVID-19. At the time, widespread testing wasn’t available, so the couple quarantined themselves for weeks, leaving their restaurant Cafe Soleil to be run by staff. Todd recovered quickly, Jennifer did not.

“She actually went into the ambulance and it happened so quick, and they would not let me go to the hospital to see her,” recalled Todd Arrouzet. “So you’re thinking this could be the last time you’re seeing somebody and it’s just a very scary thing to go through.”

NOMINATE A JEFFERSON AWARD HERO

But even while sick, Jennifer Arrouzet was determined to help others so she put the word out over social media, and began asking for donations of PPE. Masks came pouring in.

Jennifer recalled the incredible response she received. “My friend Tom, who sent me 5,000 [masks] and my nephew, Brandon, who sent quite a bit [of masks] as well,” she said of that time.

Thousands of disposable gloves rounded out the donations and the Arrouzets bought wipes and locally-made sanitizer themselves. Then they gave it all away to first responders like the San Pablo and Richmond Police Departments. Hundreds of masks, thousands of gloves and cases of sanitizer were shared by the two agencies, at a time when those items were nearly impossible to get. Nurses from local hospitals also received PPE and other supplies from the Arrouzet’s.

For many working on the front lines of the pandemic, the Arrouzet’s donations were a godsend.

“To have a community member step up and donate these items during that time, it meant everything,” recalled San Pablo Police Capt. Brian Bubar. “For us on our staff, it meant a lot.”

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But that wasn’t all, because as the Arrouzets saw grocery store shelves empty out, they created food packages from their cafe’s pantry, containing staples like chicken, eggs, milk, and bread. Community members could buy them for $40 dollars but Jennifer gave many of the food boxes away for free to those hit hard financially by the pandemic,  like longtime cafe employee and single mom Candice Benitez.

“The second that the pandemic hits … Jennifer was calling all of us to come get food and toilet paper from the cafe,” recalled Benitez. “To have … that at your hands with whatever they had here available took a lot of stress off.”

Now Jennifer and Todd are recovered and back at work. Both say their experience with COVID-19 was life-changing, and both hope sharing their story will inspire others to help those in need.

“We could all be a little kinder and maybe have a little more compassion for people that are maybe having a tougher time,” said Jennifer Arrouzet. “[My advice would be] check on your neighbors, check on your friends, check on other businesses, check on your community.”

So for providing donated meals and PPE to those in need during the Pandemic, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Jennifer and Todd Arrouzet.

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