Bay Area “Start Ups” Frontline Foods and Meals of Gratitude are Models for Local Restaurants and Healthcare Workers to Know the Power of Local Food

By Colleen Leonardi

Frontline Foods partners with local restaurants to get local food to healthcare workers
Frontline Foods partners with local restaurants to get local food to healthcare workers. Photo credit: Brecht Vant Hof

It all started with a nurse like most healing does. Her name is Sydney Gressel. When Covid-19 hit San Francisco in March her friends asked how they could help. Gressel’s answer was food. “Pizza” to be exact, but what sprouted from her hunger goes way beyond one slice. Her friends immediately saw the need: feed healthcare workers while keeping local restaurants open. And Frontline Foods (FF) was born.

Covid-19 has ignited similar volunteer missions with equal merit. Meals of Gratitude was seeded at the same time in the Bay Area by Jesse Cool Ziff of Flea Street and Holly K. Tabor. Currently, they continue donating their time and resources to bring healthy, locally sourced food (and a “virtual hug”) to healthcare workers in need all across the health chain.

What makes FF unique as a grassroots initiative is its partnerships and reach. Currently, $7.9 million has been donated, 59 cities host FF chapters, 1,000 local restaurants have been supported, 400,000 meals have been delivered, and 700 front-line teams have been served.

It’s a national movement on the rise.

FF’s primary partnership with World Central Kitchen (WCK), the non-profit founded by Chef José Andrés, has allowed for this Silicon Valley start-up to embrace the nation. WCK knows catastrophe. The organization was created after and in service to the earthquake in Haiti. Their mission is “to use the power of food to heal and strengthen communities in times of crisis and beyond.” The non-profit has fed families in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, “children in the shelters on our border with Mexico,” and much more. They were ready and willing to scale up FF. Currently, all donations made to FF go through WCK.

And 100% of what you donate goes directly to a local restaurant and a community of nurses and doctors. $100 feeds a team of 5 – 10 frontline workers, and safe delivery of freshly-made local meals is built into the cost. As an open source, multicity mission, FF’s aim is to help replicate their success in other regions.

“They are also working closely with chefs around the country and World Central Kitchen to develop a standard operating procedure for the health of food workers and preparation of food,” writes Catherine Nunes, Publisher of Edible Silicon Valley. “The plan is to publish it and “share as much as possible.””

Out of the ashes of this moment in our nation is rising an unstoppable connection between healthcare workers and resilient local food sources. FF and Meals of Gratitude are shining examples. FF is committed to working with “individual restaurants, small restaurant groups, and local chains.” Their commitment bolsters the local economy, from allowing an independently owned restaurant to keep full-time staff employed, to keeping the distance the food travels shorter than 100 miles. For all of its national infrastructure multiplying by the minute, the seeds FF and WCK plant are truly homegrown.

The question remains: When we are past this national crisis will these healing relationships and pathways between local food and the healthcare system remain? Let’s hope so.

Visit MealsofGratitude.org to learn more and how you can donate. And FrontlineFoods.org for more on how to donate, start your own chapter, volunteer, or request a partnership to received meals for your healthcare workers.

Read more Beyond the Plate local food hero stories. Learn more about our partners, Niman Ranch at nimanranch.com.

Get more local stories at Edible Silicon Valley.