How to Support Restaurants, Farmers, Workers During COVID-19

Danielle Nierenberg
As I wrote to you last week, like so many of you, I’m grounded. Hunkering down with my husband and trying to stay calm and healthy — and I hope you, your friends, and your loved ones are, as well.
At Food Tank, we’re excited to be able to convene food system leaders virtually. Every weekday, at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. EST, I’m conducting live interviews with incredible guest experts on food and agriculture issues. So far, I’ve spoken live with professor and activist Raj Patel, entrepreneur and philanthropist Kimbal Musk, Joi Chevalier from the Cook’s Nook, and many others. You can watch live on our YouTube channel, Facebook Live, and Twitter, and we’ll post our conversations to and our podcast, Food Talk with Dani Nierenberg.Through these conversations, we are gaining a greater understanding of the enormous toll COVID-19 is having on the food system. Cities and states are requiring restaurants to stop serving dine-in guests, and some are switching to takeout and delivery. Others are closing entirely. As a result, farmers are struggling with lower demand, and farmers markets are closing.
Food service workers, chefs, farmers, wait staff, and others who power our food system—literally by harvesting, processing, cooking, serving, and disposing of our food—are seeing their livelihoods jeopardized. And those who are hungry, including children who rely on school meal programs, may have more difficulty accessing food relief.
This week, Food Tank is encouraging you to support those in the food system most impacted by COVID-19. We’re highlighting 31 organizations around the world that are donating money, food, and time: ALONE Ireland, Boston Cares, California Food Policy Advocates, Chef Ann Foundation, Children of Restaurant Employees (CORE), City Harvest, Farmworker Justice, Food Chain Workers Alliance, Food Recovery Network, Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen, Hunter College New York City Food Policy Center, Italian Red Cross, James Beard Foundation, Meals on Wheels, Miriam’s Kitchen, National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON), No Kid Hungry, One Fair Wage, Philly Restaurant Relief & Server Relief Fund, Provision Community Restaurant, Relief International, Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, Rethink Food NYC, Restaurant Workers Community Foundation (RWCF), Roadrunner Food Bank, Seattle Hospitality Emergency Fund, Second Harvest Louisiana, Society of St. Vincent de Paul, United States Bartenders Guild (USBG) Foundation, Weld Food Bank, and World Central Kitchen (WCK).
Contributing Authors: Jared Kaufman and Elena Seeley
Editor’s note: This article will be continually updated throughout the COVID-19 outbreak and will remain in alphabetical order. Please email if you would like to add an opportunity to our running list.
The COVID-19 pandemic, caused by a novel coronavirus, has disrupted most of the world in recent weeks. People are staying home from work, schools and colleges are moving online, and restaurants in many cities and states are mandated to serve eaters via takeout or delivery only. Farmers markets are closing or not opening at all. And, unfortunately, some cafes, bars, and kitchens have closed entirely. Foodservice workers—from chefs and line cooks to wait staff and dishwashers—are on the front lines of both the health and economic impacts of this disease.
But thankfully, in response, advocates around the country and around the world are gathering community support—and if you’re able, you can help too. These organizations are welcoming donations of food, money, and volunteer hours to aid restaurants, service workers, farmers, and people going hungry during the COVID-19 pandemic.
1. ALONE Ireland
With people self-isolating to prevent COVID-19 infections, senior citizens—already particularly vulnerable to the disease—may feel lonelier with limited social contact. ALONE is an Irish organization that recruits volunteers to call, visit, and befriend elderly people living at home. In response to COVID-19, they are looking for more volunteers to offer telephone support, by kindly checking in on those over 60, and practical support, by running errands like grocery shopping and pharmacy pickups. They have also launched a national helpline to answer questions and offer reassurance. People around the world are welcome to donate, and those living in Ireland can volunteer here.
2. Boston Cares
A central hub for volunteering, Boston Cares helps more than 25,000 people annually give back to schools, nonprofit agencies, and other community programs. They recruit, train, and mobilize volunteers across the Greater Boston area. As many civic organizations adjust their programming models in response to COVID-19, Boston Cares is seeking volunteers to help the community. Boston Cares offers a virtual volunteer orientation program so people can begin to help others while maintaining their social distancing.
3. California Food Policy Advocates
With offices in Oakland, Los Angeles, and San Diego, California Food Policy Advocates (CFPA) pushes policy solutions to help low-income people across the state access healthy food. CFPA supported and will help implement national COVID-19 response programs in California, including those enacted by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. CFPA is also using its email newsletter as a way to keep the community informed about advocacy opportunities and policy responses to the coronavirus. You can donate here.
4. Chef Ann Foundation
The Chef Ann Foundation is a Colorado-based nonprofit helping schools around the country serve kids healthier, tastier, scratch-made lunches. As schools respond to coronavirus-related closures, the Chef Ann Foundation is sharing successful tactics and best practices from their partner districts. They’re working to make it as easy as possible to develop remote food programs and other support for students. In addition to accepting donations, the Chef Ann Foundation is also collecting messages for a nationwide Thank You card for school food workers across America.
5. Children of Restaurant Employees (CORE)
Children of Restaurant Employees (CORE) offers support to families of food and beverage service workers facing serious challenges, from serious illness and death to injury or eviction. CORE grants help families with everything they need to weather tough times — medical bills, gas, groceries, clothing, utilities, rent, and more. Since 2004, CORE has supported more than 600 families and raised over $4 million. Currently, CORE is setting aside grants specifically for families of restaurant employees who have tested positive for COVID-19.
6. City Harvest
As restaurants closed and events were cancelled in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, much of the food that would have been served did not go to waste, thanks to City Harvest. The New York City-based food rescue organization received 50,000 pounds of donated food last week — five times their normal intake — and distributed it to food pantries, soup kitchens, and directly to families in need. Monetary donations to City Harvest will help provide more shelf-stable food relief to people in need and ensure their delivery schedule can meet the increased need.
7. Dining at a Distance
Dining at a Distance, created specifically to support food providers during the COVID-19 pandemic, offers dozens of local, community-sourced databases of farms and restaurants that remain open for business. Residents of nearly 50 cities of all sizes around the globe, from Berlin to Boston to Corinth, Mississippi, can find contact information for restaurants, takeout and delivery details, and comments from community members. Dining at a Distance also offers databases of farms in all 50 U.S. states plus Washington, D.C., broken down by crop type, organic certification, and how consumers can pick up or receive fresh fruits, vegetables, dairy, and more. You can get involved by adding restaurants and farms to the database or starting a new database if your city isn’t listed.
8. Family Agriculture Resource Management Services (F.A.R.M.S.)
Recognizing the systemic challenges and discrimination Black farmers face in the United States, attorney Jillian Hishaw founded Family Agriculture Resource Management Services. F.A.R.M.S. provides legal assistance to farmers with limited resources and helps them retain control and ownership of their land. Rural small farmers are eligible for grants from the Farmers Emergency Fund, which is aimed at making sure aging farmers and those from historically disadvantaged groups can stay afloat during crises like the COVID-19 pandemic.
9. The Farmer Fund
Although The Farmer Fund was initially founded to help Georgia farmers facing destruction from natural disasters, “we have seen over the past few days that a pandemic like COVID-19 is its own natural disaster — and is certainly an emergency,” they write. The Farmer Fund, now run by Georgia Organics, has raised over US$50,000 to support farmers in the state since 2018. Now, donations to the fund will help farmers survive the pandemic, rebuild, and continue feeding Georgians through markets, CSAs, and restaurant sales.
10. Farmworker Justice
Through legal advocacy in government, regulatory agencies, and in the court system, Farmworker Justice aims to secure legal rights for agricultural workers and improve their working conditions. With dedicated attorneys on staff, Farmworker Justice represents agricultural workers in lawsuits and regulatory petitions. At the same time, they educate both policymakers and the public about the challenges they face. “All of these workers are in perilous situations and being given absolutely no respect in the narrative of COVID-19,” food activist and journalist Raj Patel told me on Food Talk with Dani Nierenberg.”
11. Food Chain Workers Alliance
By uniting worker-based organizations into a broad coalition, the Food Chain Workers Alliance (FCWA) stands up for more than 375,000 workers who “plant, harvest, process, pack, transport, prepare, serve, and sell food, [by] organizing to improve wages and working conditions for all workers along the food chain.” In a survey, the Food Chain Workers Alliance found that 80 percent of all food workers were not given paid sick days, and 43 percent said they feared they would lose their job if they took a sick day. In response to the dangers of COVID-19, the Food Chain Workers Alliance is fighting for the health and safety of workers, fair wages and working conditions, and support for street vendors and undocumented immigrants.
12. Food Recovery Network
Since its inception in 2011, Food Recovery Network has rescued more than 3.2 million pounds of food and has a presence on 230 college campuses across the United States. Food Recovery Network empowers students, communities, and food businesses to reconstruct their perceptions and habits around surplus food. To support businesses making difficult choices in closing or paring down operations, FRN has created a four-step COVID-19 Food Recovery Guide to make donating excess food as simple as possible.
13. Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen
Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen is New York City’s largest emergency food-relief organization. In addition to their soup kitchen, their Backpack Pantry Program helps ensure that school-aged kids in NYC—one in ten of whom lived in a homeless shelter at some point last year—have food to eat. Recently, Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen launched the Coronavirus Hot Meal Distribution Campaign, which has raised over US$28,000 of its US$1 million goal to provide hot meals to New York City residents in need.
14. Hunter College New York City Food Policy Center
The Hunter College New York City Food Policy Center develops intersectoral, innovative, and evidence-based solutions to prevent diet-related diseases and promote food security in New York City and other urban centers. The Center works with policymakers, community organizations, advocates, and the public to create healthier, more sustainable food environments and use food to promote community and economic development. The Center is currently working to release Coronavirus NYC Food Resource Guides for each of NYC’s 59 neighborhoods with the following information: meals for children, meals for seniors, retail food stores and their delivery/benefits policies, local food pantries and soup kitchens, resources for homeless people, resources for immigrant populations, and resources for people with disabilities.
15. Italian Red Cross
Italy has been particularly affected by the coronavirus, with more COVID-19 cases and deaths than almost any other country. The Italian Red Cross (CRI) is working with the Italian Ministry of Health to manage the country’s response. CRI is helping set up special treatment structures and transporting potentially infected patients using biocontaminant vehicles. Additionally, they are supplying regional Italian Red Cross committees with testing and treatment materials. People around the world can donate to support the Italian Red Cross’ efforts, and if you live in Italy, you can sign up and train to volunteer online.
16. James Beard Foundation
The James Beard Foundation’s mission is to celebrate America’s food culture. At a time when restaurants, bars, and other independent food and beverage operations are facing temporary closures and reduced capacity, their futures may feel uncertain. To combat this financial strain, the Foundation launched the James Beard Foundation Food and Beverage Relief Fund. Donations will be used to provide micro-grants to independent businesses in need.
17. Meals on Wheels
Meals on Wheels provides food, companionship, and safety checks for 2.4 million senior citizens across the U.S. While requests for service have increased amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many of Meals on Wheels’ clients—and older volunteers—are among the most vulnerable to the disease. Meals on Wheels America has begun a nationwide COVID-19 Response Fund, and many local providers—from Portland, OR, to Minneapolis, MN, to the Sarasota, FL, area—are also accepting donations and asking for younger, healthy community members to volunteer.
18. Miriam’s Kitchen
Since 1983, Miriam’s Kitchen has worked to address homelessness in Washington, D.C. In addition to serving meals, they also connect people with nurses, social workers, lawyers, and other advocates to help end homelessness in the long term—not simply respond to it. Many people experiencing homelessness are among the most vulnerable to COVID-19, so although Miriam’s Kitchen temporarily suspended its volunteer program for their safety, the organization is ramping up its outreach program to provide support to guests wherever they are.
19. National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON)
The National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) works to secure civil and political rights for low-wage workers and day laborers, or those who are hired and paid day-to-day. In its Worker & Migrant Justice Response to Coronavirus, NDLON condemned the “unprecedented levels of nativism, xenophobia, racial resentment, and dehumanization” made worse by the coronavirus pandemic. They call for providing medical treatment for all, releasing those in immigrant detention camps, and stopping deportations so all U.S. government resources can be put toward an “‘all hands on deck’ social effort.”
20. No Kid Hungry
As schools close in response to COVID-19, many children who rely on school lunch lose their only source of nutritious, high-quality meals. In response, No Kid Hungry has launched a multimillion-dollar campaign, including releasing US$1 million in immediate grants for school districts and nonprofit organizations to continue meals programs. Donations to No Kid Hungry also provide resources to families in need and support outreach efforts, so they know how to find meals during school closures.
21. One Fair Wage
Advocates at One Fair Wage are working to end the tipped minimum wage, a practice in the U.S. that allows employers to pay workers significantly less than the legal minimum wage if they also earn tips. With many restaurants across the country closing or reducing service—and sectors such as ridesharing and nail/hair salons also significantly affected—One Fair Wage has launched an Emergency Coronavirus Tipped and Service Worker Support Fund. This effort will provide restaurant workers, Lyft/Uber drivers, and other tipped wage-earners with money they need for basic expenses, like food and rent.
22. Philly Restaurant Relief & Server Relief Fund
Restaurants in Philadelphia, like in many cities across the world, are subject to restrictions on dining-in due to COVID-19. To allow community members to continue supporting restaurants, the website Philly Restaurant Relief encourages people to pay their “check” in the form of a donation or gift card in the amount they might otherwise have spent on the meal. Philadelphia restaurant workers are also supported by the unrelated Philly Restaurant Server Relief Fund. This initiative aims to raise enough money to give servers $400 a week, the average they would otherwise earn, until at least the beginning of April.
23. Provision Community Restaurant
Provision Community Restaurant is the first pay-as-you-can restaurant in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Typically, they invite all community members for family-style dinners and Saturday brunches, which is not currently possible because of dine-in restrictions due to COVID-19. As restaurants shifted their operations, many donated excess food to Provision. Now, twice every weekday, Provision is offering free, single-serve take-out dinners to anyone who needs it. They are still accepting donations of food and money to support the community.
24. Relief International
Relief International operates in 16 countries across Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, where they provide medical aid and help with development in “fragile settings.” One of Relief International’s focus countries, Iran, has one of the highest COVID-19 infection and death numbers in the world. In response, the organization is raising money to provide medical supplies for medical professionals there. According to Relief International, a US$15 donation can fully stock one facility in Iran with hand sanitizer, gloves, and protective eyewear, and a US$75 donation can treat two COVID-19-positive patients.
25. Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United
Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United provides support, training, and advocacy for restaurant workers across the U.S. In response to the coronavirus pandemic, ROC United has supported employees at major corporate restaurant groups in demanding paid sick days and has launched a media campaign to encourage restaurant workers to share their stories with newspapers. ROC United has compiled a guide to both national and city/state-specific resources for restaurant workers affected by COVID-19, from emergency grant funds to food banks to unemployment agencies. ROC United is also accepting direct donations to their Restaurant Worker Disaster Relief Fund.
26. Rethink Food NYC
Rethink Food NYC, an organization that seeks to recover and distribute food in New York City, is ramping up its anti-hunger efforts amid COVID-19. As part of their Emergency Food Response program, Rethink Food NYC is hiring temporary paid employees to work as on the culinary team, cafe team, facilities team, and distribution. Additionally, they are seeking volunteers to help package to-go meals—their goal of 15,000 meals a day will help ensure every New Yorker has access to food, wherever they are. Rethink Food NYC is also supporting restaurants. Thirty restaurants will be selected to receive US$40,000 grants to stay up and running as meal distribution centers during the COVID-19 pandemic, helping secure food for those in need and jobs for service employees. They are accepting monetary donations here.
27. Restaurant Workers Community Foundation (RWCF)
Created by and for restaurant workers, the Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation (RWCF) is directing its full attention to COVID-19 emergency relief through its Crisis Relief Fund. Donations will go toward local organizations supporting the restaurant community, zero-interest loans for businesses to maintain payroll, establish a relief fund for individuals workers facing economic or health crises as a result of the virus. RWCF is also assembling a list of resources to help restaurants and workers deal most effectively with their specific needs.
28. Roadrunner Food Bank
The biggest hunger relief organization in New Mexico, Roadrunner Food Bank donated 34 million pounds of food last year alone. As demand increases as a result of the coronavirus, the food bank is coordinating with partners across the state to stay open. They are accepting donations of money and non-perishable food items, as well as time. With stringent safety protocols in place, Roadrunner Food Bank welcomes volunteers to help ensure people in the Albuquerque area—and across the state—can get the food they need.
29. Seattle Hospitality Emergency Fund
Seattle is one of the U.S. cities hit hardest by the coronavirus—and, amid a tech boom there, has a particularly high cost of living. The Seattle Hospitality Emergency Fund, started on GoFundMe by a restaurant employee and community organizer, aims to support service workers struggling to afford rent, food, health care, and more. Applications are open to anyone, with a specific priority on supporting people of color, those who identify as LGBTQIA+, and people who are disabled or immunocompromised.
30. Second Harvest Louisiana
Second Harvest Food Bank supported residents in South Louisiana through Hurricane Katrina, and is ensuring that these communities persist in the face of COVID-19. Volunteers and workers have been busy preparing hundreds of meals for seniors and children, delivering food to partner food pantries, and providing assistance to service industry workers. In the coming days and weeks, Second Harvest anticipates the number of people they serve to increase and are therefore asking for others to help however they can by donating funds, non-perishable goods, cleaning supplies, or time as a volunteer.
31. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Arizona offers a variety of programs, from meals to an urban farm to medical assistance to clothing and housing. In response to COVID-19, they are packaging meals to go, offering telemedicine, and more. In addition to monetary donations—both to continue their own work and help families pay for necessities—the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is accepting donations of food, clothes, and sanitizing supplies at their Phoenix, Arizona, headquarters. Additionally, they are still in search of on-call volunteers, and some projects are able to be done remotely or with family members at home.
32. United States Bartenders Guild (USBG) Foundation
While some restaurants have stayed open for takeout and delivery, many bars have been forced to close entirely. While also providing links to resources available to all restaurant workers, the USBG Foundation is offering grants specifically for bartenders in their families. The Foundation is seeking both donations, which can go directly to the COVID-19 Relief Campaign, as well as volunteers to help with donor outreach, communications support, and grant application screening.
33. Weld Food Bank
In Weld County, Colorado, one in five adults and one in four children are hungry. Weld Food Bank serves those in need through a variety of programs from the Mobile Food Pantry to its Senior Feeding Program. In response to COVID-19, Weld Food Bank recognizes that its services are needed now more than ever, and is continuing to feed the community while ensuring that each stays healthy. To fulfil its mission, Weld Food Bank is accepting both monetary and food donations and is also in need of volunteers to package food for distribution.
34. WhyHunger’s Rapid Response Fund
WhyHunger, an organization dedicated to ending hunger through grassroots efforts and economic and racial justice movements, has activated its Rapid Response Fund. Donations to the fund will allow WhyHunger to support food pantries, small farmers, and restaurant staff working to secure the human right of nutritious food during the COVID-19 outbreak. The Rapid Response Fund also supports WhyHunger’s national Find Food database, which allows anyone going hungry, from children to veterans to seniors, to text or call a hotline that connects them with free resources in their area.
35. World Central Kitchen (WCK)
Chef José Andrés’ organization, World Central Kitchen, has played a central role in relief efforts by providing millions of meals to those affected by man-made and natural disasters. Since the early stages of the COVID-19 outbreak, WCK has been on the frontlines, preparing and distributing fresh meals to guests quarantined on cruise ships in Yokohama, Japan and Oakland, California. WCK is now expanding its efforts by mapping feeding efforts, delivering meals in cities across the country, and building a network of #ChefsForAmerica Community Kitchens. Support WCK’s by making a donation or joining its Volunteer Corps.