The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the normalcy of daily life for everyone around the globe. From commuting to work to getting a haircut, this crisis has resulted in scarcity and limited access to many goods and services that we have come to rely on. Some of these – like haircuts – are more superficial, but others – like food and water – are crucial to our survival.
The ability to go to the grocery store has become a privilege that many can no longer access. For those that are unable to take the time to wait in long lines – often hours – as stores mandate maximum shopper capacity at a given time, the time commitment for a grocery run is unmanageable. For those over the age of 65 or with respiratory issues, the health risk from being in a public place is too dangerous. These people are often forced to rely on grocery delivery services, which are unable to service the surge in demand, therefore are also unreliable.
These issues related to access to food are vast and wide, and these examples of barriers for middle-income Americans don’t even compare to citizens of countries with food scarcity during normal times. An additional subset of the population that is heavily affected is the health care workforce. These heroic individuals are working incredibly long shifts, risking their own health and safety to help others. They are particularly affected by the challenges of access to food mentioned above, as they have very limited time to go out and must distance themselves from the public at an even greater extent due to their exposure to COVID-19 patients.
Given the significant challenges for health care workers to access food and the public’s desire to show gratitude for their noble efforts, one digital nonprofit, Frontline Foods, has emerged to address this issue. Frontline Foods is an online platform that leverages donations from the public to deliver food to medical staff from nearby restaurants. They work with restaurants to establish health and safety guidelines to ensure that food delivered to medical facilities is uncontaminated. A team of volunteers works behind the scenes to match hospitals and frontline facilities with local restaurants to facilitate smooth order and delivery processes. One hundred percent of the donations from the public are spent on food, therefore no margin is taken for service or delivery fees. The food ordered is undiscounted at normal rates, and the team targets restaurants hardest hit financially by the quarantine.
One of the founding organizers, Joel Wishkovsky, came up with the idea in New York City and established a GoFundMe page to begin raising money. He then saw that others were creating similar initiatives in other cities and founded FrontlineFoods.org to centralize the nationwide efforts.
The impact is three-fold. Firstly, health care workers most in need of food with limited ability to go out to shop are able to have food delivered to them at no cost. Secondly, local restaurants that are extremely cash-strapped due to loss in revenue are supported by the increase in orders. Thirdly, the public is able to show gratitude and support a segment of the population desperately in need of help in a contactless manner with no fees diluting the donation.
Since its inception, Frontline Foods has raised nearly $2 million, delivered more than 50,000 meals to frontline workers across 54 cities, and supported over 135 restaurants. Frontline Foods has even garnered public support from celebrities including Octavia Spencer, Melissa McCarthy, and Ben Falcone.
“Frontline Foods has quickly become a national grassroots movement, feeding healthcare workers and supporting local restaurants across the country, all powered by the incredible work of hundreds of volunteers,” said Sydney Gressel, a pediatric nurse at and founding organizer of Frontline Foods. “We are so humbled to be joining forces with the incredible collective of Octavia Spencer, Melissa McCarthy, Ben Falcone, Joel McHale, Aimee Carpenter and Leslee Feldman.”
McCarthy and Falcone said about the initiative, “We saw the incredible work that Frontline Foods and their army of volunteers were doing nationwide. This can benefit both the frontline healthcare workers who risk their lives every day in order to save ours and the local restaurants who are desperately trying to keep their lights on and pay their staff in these economically devastating times. Every little bit counts, whether it’s 5, 50 or 5,000 dollars. It can make a real a difference.”
While the food scarcity issue for health care workers is most significant in the short term, I believe this organization can live beyond the COVID-19 crisis. The mission of their service is to connect those with a need for food with food from local providers. The target segment of folks who have a need for food can easily shift to the elderly, homeless, or low-income families with children. Restaurants will always be willing and able to provide food on demand, given the prevalence of food delivery services such a DoorDash, UberEats, and Seamless.
Frontline Foods can partner with these food delivery services to add “donation options” at checkout, giving customers the option to donate food or money for a specific group of people. Frontline Foods can work to establish relationships between beneficiaries of the donations and the food delivery services, meanwhile leveraging existing food delivery apps for their infrastructure and payment technology.
Additionally, Frontline Foods could facilitate donations from grocery stores whose inventory is not fit for shelving, thereby limiting food waste. Frontline Foods will have already established relationships with target beneficiaries and can utilize existing delivery service apps for the transportation labor.
The time horizon for the COVID-19 crisis is uncertain, but what is certain is that food scarcity is a persistent societal problem that needs to be addressed. By leveraging a technology platform to connect the needy with those able to donate, Frontline Foods is making headway to close the food scarcity gap.