“‘We hit $142,000 in donations and have delivered more than 1,500 meals”: How Feed the Frontlines TO is helping to keep restaurants open and health care workers fed

“‘We hit $142,000 in donations and have delivered more than 1,500 meals”: How Feed the Frontlines TO is helping to keep restaurants open and health care workers fed

Delivery on Easter Sunday to St. Michael’s Hospital, by Little Sister (with some Lindt chocolate bunnies as an extra treat)

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The idea for Feed the Frontlines emerged shortly after Toronto restaurants were ordered to close. I have a good friend who owns some restaurants in New York, and the same thing was happening there. I was thinking about how hard it must be for him, and if there was anything I could do to help. At the same time, I was also thinking about all the health care workers who are putting themselves at risk every day. I’m a self-employed consultant in the mental health and addictions space. A lot of the work I do is with health care organizations, so I have a pretty good understanding of hospital operations and the kind of stress hospital staff are under, even on a regular day when there isn’t a pandemic to worry about. I wondered if there was a way I could help my friend and health care workers at the same time. I started calling around to hospitals in New York, offering to buy meals for their emergency workers. I first heard back from a representative at Tisch Hospital in Manhattan, who said it was a wonderful idea.

I called my friend Luca Di Pietro at his restaurant Tarallucci E Vino and put in an order for dinner for 40. He decided on classic comfort food: lasagna, salad and garlic bread. He and his team made the delivery a couple of days later. It was totally seamless and a massive success. Once he had the model in place, he was able to run with it. His kids helped him put together a website, and they’ve started working with other restaurants to make meals for health care workers. I think at this point they’ve raised more than $800,000 and have taken orders for 13,000 meals.

Roberts (right) helps with a delivery to Mount Sinai

Clearly this idea had potential, so I wanted to bring it to Toronto. On March 20, I started a GoFundMe page, explaining how people could help both front-line workers and struggling restaurants by making a donation. “It’s a two-fer!” is how I’ve been selling it. The response was overwhelming. In just 24 hours, I raised $3,500. I immediately started calling around to restaurants. I decided to focus on local, independent businesses because I figured they were suffering the most, so I reached out to some of my favourites. I’ve had many an Italian dinner at Five Doors North; Tabule makes amazing Middle Eastern food; and I’m obsessed with Little Sister’s rijsttafel dinner. They all said yes. At this point, I asked my health care industry friends for advice in regards to safe packaging—they suggested individual packaged meals in wipeable containers, and gloves and masks during packaging and dropoff.

Our first delivery was on March 24. It came from Five Doors North and was brought to the emergency team at Mount Sinai. Lasagna must be the ultimate comfort food because that’s what they chose to make, too. Everyone was so happy to receive the food, and it was amazing to get photos and feedback. One nurse told me that it was just like eating a home-cooked meal and how special that was. For hospital workers, just figuring out what they’re going to eat when they finally get a break can be stressful. This is just one less thing they have to think about.

The order board at Little Sister

For the first week or so, I was making all the dropoffs myself, but now we have a group of 15 volunteers. The volunteers started rolling in after I was interviewed on Metro Morning in late March. Only a few hours after the interview, I heard from a man named Siamak Sarvari. He and a few of his colleagues at the consulting firm McKinsey and Co. had been about to launch something very similar, so when he heard my interview, he figured we could work together. We chatted for a bit to make sure we were on the same page and decided it was a good fit. It’s been great having other people join in the fundraising effort. As of April 15, we hit $142,000 in donations and have delivered more than 1,500 meals to front-line workers at Mount Sinai, North York General, Bridgepoint and St. Mike’s. We’ve also fed workers at the Fred Victor Centre and Sistering. I think it’s important that people remember a lot of social-services professionals are on the front lines, too.

Our next step is expanding to work with even more restaurants. Next up: Pukka, an Indian restaurant on St. Clair West. I want to make a difference in the future of small, independent businesses. Keeping them above water is more than just a one-time donation.

—As told to Courtney Shea

Staff at North York General, getting their delivery
And a team photo. That’s Roberts in the upper-left corner, and Siamak Savari is to her right.