7 Bay Area Organizations Helping the Local Food Industry During the Coronavirus Pandemic

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The coronavirus pandemic and ensuing measures to contain it have hit the food industry particularly hard. Grocery stores and farmer's markets remain open while observing social distancing measures, but many bars and restaurants have closed temporarily, some permanently, under shelter-in-place orders that enforce take-out only service.

In the Bay Area and beyond, eateries have turned to crowdfunding to support their businesses and staff. And some, like Nick’s Pizza in Oakland, are getting creative, encouraging donations to their worker relief fund with sourdough starter deliveries.

Faced with massive job loss in an uncertain landscape, restaurant owners and workers are also forming coalitions, leveraging collective power to sustain and advocate for their livelihoods at local and federal levels. Still, others have turned their eateries into commissary kitchens, feeding medical staff and other community members in need.

Below is an incomplete survey of Bay Area organizations taking action to inform, feed and raise funds for those in the food industry. As they adapt to the restrictions from coronavirus and its containment efforts, this list will be updated regularly to reflect changes and to add new campaigns.

A reminder: Since family-owned and operated restaurants, especially those not funded by investors or without a significant online presence, stand to be least represented, we encourage you to call up your favorite local restaurants to check if they have similar efforts underway.

La Cocina

In response to seeing sales decrease 80-100% Bay Area kitchen incubator, La Cocina is holding a fundraiser for the more than 25 businesses that live under its umbrella. Through an emergency relief fund, the organization is providing its entrepreneurs with cash payments to cover basic living expenses. The organization is also offering takeout boxes ($80–$150) for two to four people. Through the course of the pandemic, La Cocina has kept its kitchen open waiving all fees for entrepreneurs and limiting capacity two businesses at a time to keep with physical distancing guidelines.

Oakland Food Service Workers Fund

A mutual aid fund led by a collective of seven Oakland food workers and an organizer, artist and teacher (all left unemployed by the crisis), the Oakland Food Service Worker Fund has raised over $23,000 through a GoFundMe page and other electronic donations. (While the group seeks a fiscal sponsor to make donations tax-deductible, they have temporarily switched fundraising to Venmo.) The group has already started disbursing funds to food workers, prioritizing Black, indigenous and other people of color, as well as undocumented folks. Undocumented workers are particularly vulnerable right now, notes Catalina X., one of the fund’s organizers, because they are ineligible for unemployment benefits.

“We have received more than 350 applications,” she said over email. “Many are currently in very dire circumstances, including being unhoused or at risk of being unhoused, supporting many generations of family members both here and in their home countries, and many have very little access to resources or help.” The fund has closed a first round of applications and plans to reopen to new applicants once it reaches its $100,000 goal.

Sonoma Family Meal

Created in response to the 2017 Tubbs Fire by restaurant writer Heather Irvin, Sonoma Family Meal connects local restaurants, farms and chefs to feed those in need in times of crisis. In response to COVID-19, the organization has once again recruited a network of 17 restaurants and their nearly 100 workers, paying the restaurants $8 per meal to help maintain their operations.

Over the last month, SFM has coordinated the preparation and donation of over 25,000 meals, partnering with local nonprofits like Council on Aging and Corazón Healdsburg for distribution. “We estimate needing up to $1 million to continue to feed Sonoma County’s most vulnerable through June 2020,” Irwin wrote about the organization’s work. To help achieve this longterm goal, she hopes to increase the current roster of restaurants to 25.

SF New Deal

Partnering with several restaurants in San Francisco to keep workers employed and citizens fed, the SF New Deal is a fund started with a $1 million donation from Twitch CEO Emmett Shear. Currently accepting more donations, the fund has disbursed nearly $300,000 to restaurants paying them to prepare meals for different drop off sites across the city. Reem Assil's newly opened Mission eatery Reem's along with Hawker Fare, Mister Jiu's and Cafe Envy are a few of the restaurant partners in the mix.  According to Nightbird owner and chef Kim Alter, another partner in the SF New Deal, these efforts have lead to 4,000 meals prepared and distributed per day.

East Bay FeedER

Another twofold operation aims to keep restaurants afloat while also feeding frontline workers, in this case, the medical staff of seven East Bay emergency and intensive care units. East Bay FeedER is led by novelist Ayelet Waldman and Jenny Schwartz of Oakland’s Hopscotch.

The organization, though fairly new, has already partnered with world-renowned chef José Andrés’s World Central Kitchen, a Washington, D.C. nonprofit that provides meals during crises and natural disasters. So far Waldman and Schwartz’s outfit has raised nearly $350,000, paying Easy Bay restaurants like Sinaloa, Souley Vegan and alaMar to prepare over 3,000 meals for local hospital staff.

Save Our Chinatowns

Restaurants in Chinatowns across the country were the first to feel repercussions from COVID-19, in both racist attacks and dwindling customers. A campaign started by Oakland artist Jocelyn Tsaih is raising funds for San Francisco and Oakland Chinatown businesses, working with two nonprofits in the respective communities. Tsaih has raised under thousand dollars shy of her $10,000 goal. The funds will be distributed to food businesses by the Chinatown Community Development Center in San Francisco and Chinatown Improvement in Oakland.

Restaurant Opportunities Center - Bay Area

The Bay Area chapter of the national advocacy group Restaurant Opportunities Center is focusing its efforts on an emergency fund for restaurant workers and advocating for those workers in local policymaking. Before the pandemic, ROC’s Bay Area chapter anchored itself in Oakland’s Fruitvale district provided free in-depth kitchen and bar training. During the pandemic, the organization stated on its website that they're shifting to provide accurate information and funds to vulnerable restaurant workers (both documented and undocumented) who “have no safety net to rely on due to both the public charge rule and increased immigration enforcement.” ROC Bay Area is partnering with Centro Legal De La Raza in these efforts.

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Bay Area Hospitality Coalition

Led by a group of San Francisco chefs, restaurateurs and food world figures, including Brandon Jew, Mourad Lahlou, Chris Cosentino, and Kim Alter, the newly formed Bay Area Hospitality Coalition hopes to serve as an educational and resource center for restaurants and food workers. The coalition also plans to act as an advocacy group, to inform elected officials of the specific challenges the food industry faces at this moment. With a longterm view of recovery in mind, the coalition is set to launch a literacy campaign around the financial margins under which restaurants run.

“We’re in the middle of creating an educational push through social media and through marketing to educate not only the government but people of what it costs to run a restaurant,” explained Alter over the phone. “We’re trying to get different outlooks, whether it’s a smaller restaurant in Chinatown or a three Michelin restaurant, so people can see what it looks like across the board.” The group’s website currently features legislative calls to action as well as resources for employees and workers provided by state, federal and private institutions.

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