The list of Bay Area restaurants, mobile food vendors, and bars that have shuttered their doors permanently due to the pandemic grows increasingly, despairingly long. Every week, we see more longtime faves and newer up-and-coming establishments unable to hang on until the pandemic subsides.
This latest wave of lockdowns has hit our local restaurants, mobile food vendors, and hospitality workers particularly hard. Thousands have lost their jobs, creating a growing wave of food-insecure individuals. If you’re asking yourself how you can help your local restaurant community and the community at large, here’s our guide.
1) Roll your sleeves up: Options for volunteering
The Bay Area community has rallied hard to help hospitality workers and food-insecure people. Multiple opportunities to volunteer have cropped up over the entire region. Delivering groceries or restaurant-prepared meals, picking up food donations, prepping food, and packing food donation boxes are a few ways you can get involved.
Other volunteer opportunities include helping organizations and nonprofits with marketing, social media, fundraising, coordination, and administrative support. Given the variety of options, it’s easy to find one that fits your interests, skills, and schedule. Even one hour per week can make a difference.
And best of all? The ROI of your time volunteering is exponential—knowing your efforts have an immediate, direct impact on improving others’ lives helps combat depression, anxiety, and stress. Volunteering also enables us to connect with your community, expand your social circle, and possibly even advance your career. (And don’t worry—these organizations are carefully adhering to COVID-19 safety protocols such as mask-wearing, social distancing and working in well-ventilated spaces.)
Here’s a list of organizations connected to the restaurant economy needing volunteer and financial support:
– Frontline Foods is a grassroots organization that accepts donations and uses them to pay restaurants to prepare food for frontline workers. This win-win situation provides restaurants with revenue so they can keep their doors open (and employees working)and helps our healthcare heroes. They’ve become a national nonprofit and partner with celebrity chef José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen, a nonprofit that provides meals during natural disasters and crises worldwide. They need volunteers for everything from delivering meals to marketing to coordination. Their needs change frequently, so check back if you don’t see opportunities in your area. Learn more or sign up here.
– Food Runners is a Bay Area nonprofit that picks up excess, perishable food from bakeries, hospitals, caterers, restaurants, hotels, and other businesses and delivers it to neighborhood food programs. They accept monetary and food donations and need volunteers to help pick up and deliver food. You can become a regular runner or an on-call runner. Learn more or sign up here.
– Food Shift recovers surplus food and creates meals for its catering and food donation programs while providing job training with its culinary apprenticeship program, “The Food Shift Kitchen.” They also offer catering services for businesses, special events, and more. Food Shift offers on-site, remote, virtual, short, and long-term volunteer opportunities with varying commitment hours. Its COVID-19 relief efforts program, Operation Together, needs volunteers to sort and load donated food at their Alameda office. Learn more or sign up here.
– La Cocina is a nonprofit dedicated to helping women, immigrants and people of color become restauranteurs by providing affordable kitchen space and support. They need volunteers to provide technical assistance such as tax preparation, social media, website design, mentoring and advisement. They also sell community food boxes through their La Cocina Community Food Box program, which contain savory meals prepared by its entrepreneurial businesses. Learn more or sign up here.
– The San José COVID Food Relief Program is a partnership between the City of San Jose, Veggielution Farm, Fresh Approach, and Off the Grid. The partnership works with local BIPOC-owned farms that produce vegetables, fruits, beans, grains, meats, dairy, and eggs. Volunteers pack and deliver weekly grocery boxes to more than 5,000 COVID high-risk and affected food-insecure individuals. Veggielution needs volunteers at its farm, and the relief program needs volunteers to help pack the boxes. To see a video of what’s in the box, click here. Sign up to volunteer in four-hour shifts at Conservation Corps in San Jose.
2) A dollar goes a long way: How and where to donate
All the organizations we listed above need monetary and/or food donations from producers, restaurants, and other businesses. If you’re looking for ways to support the community other than volunteering, these organizations need financial and other assistance.
– The Oakland Food Service Workers COVID-19 Relief Fund was created by a group of food service workers led by BIPOC and QTPOC (Queer/Trans People of Color). They accept monetary donations to help food industry workers affected by the pandemic pay their bills and buy groceries. They accept donations via PayPal and Venmo.
– Eat.Learn.Play is an Oakland-based nonprofit partnered with World Central Kitchen that works with 20 to 25 local restaurants to prepare and distribute up to 5,000 meals per day to vulnerable residents. It also partners with the Alameda County Community Food Bank and the Oakland Unified School District. They accept donations via PayPal, credit, and debit cards. The founders Stephen and Ayesha Curry cover the operating expenses, so 100 percent of donations go to community programs.
– Save Our Chinatowns is a GoFundMe campaign launched early on to raise money to support restaurants in Chinatowns across the U.S., which were the first to feel COVID-19 repercussions due to racism and xenophobia.
– Filipinos Feed the Frontlines is an alliance of Filipino food businesses and organizations that collaborate to feed frontline healthcare workers and communities in the Bay Area, Los Angeles, and Stockton. (Two of Off the Grid’s partner Creators, Senor Sisig and The Sarap Shop, are part of the alliance.) Each week, the alliance uses monetary donations to place orders with its restaurant partners and distribute meals to seniors and other vulnerable communities.
– The James Beard Foundation supports independent and community-focused restaurants around the world. Through its Open for Good campaign, it provides critical resources to help independent restaurants survive and come back stronger. It accepts donations via credit card.
– Hospitality Helps partners with Meals on Wheels and Peninsula Food Runners to produce and deliver freshly prepared, ready-to-heat meals to those suffering the most from the pandemic. Born from Taste Catering put its kitchen team back to work and uses its 19,000-square-foot facility to prep and prepare meals. All donations are tax-deductible and can be made online or by check.
– EdibleSanFrancisco.com offers a list of 50+ local restaurants asking for support with links to their GoFundMe campaigns. You can sort and filter the list to find specific restaurants.
– Choose Restaurants is a campaign organized by the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation to help restaurant workers rebuild their futures. It partners with several large corporations, and currently, Tito’s Vodka is doubling all donations. Donations are tax-deductible and can be made via credit card, ACH/EFT, check, or call 202-315-4118.
– United States Bartenders’ Guild National Charity Foundation supports the stability and well-being of service industry professionals. You can make online donations to its Bartender Emergency Assistance Program in honor of someone and include a note.
3) Give the gift of support: How to skip Amazon and buy local
Instead of buying gift cards and gifts from big national chains and businesses, put your dollars to work locally. Many restaurants, mobile food vendors, and organizations are selling merchandise and gift cards. If you’re scrambling to get your holiday shopping done, check out these offerings. This is a win-win all the way around — your holiday gifts support the local foodservice industry and delight your recipients with a meaningful, impactful gift.
– Save Our Faves is a directory of Bay Area coffee shops and restaurants offering online gift cards. You can browse the directory and purchase cards to provide immediate cash flow to struggling restaurants that can be used for takeout orders or later once things open.
– La Cocina (mentioned earlier) sells a variety of delicious food gift boxes ranging from treats, beef jerky, superfoods to gourmet snacks from its award-winning entrepreneur businesses.
– Filipinos Feeding Frontlines (mentioned earlier) is selling cool merch such as t-shirts, tote bags and face coverings.
– 21st Amendment Brewery has an extensive online store with all kinds of beer-related goods such as gift cards, apparel, hats, posters, drinkware, coolers, and even sunglasses.
– OTG’s enormously popular food truck Creator partner Senor Sisig sells gift cards, limited edition tees, stickers, pins, jackets, and more. Some product sales are donated to #Sisig4ThePeople.
– For seafood lovers, consider a delectable food gift such as a fresh oyster platter, clam chowder kit, smoked fish, bloody mary kit, and more from Hog Island Oyster Company. This longtime fave sources its shellfish from its sustainable 160-acre shellfish farm in Tomales Bay and also offers an Oyster-of-the-Month club, plus traditional merch such as gift cards, hats, tees, and hoodies.
– Del Popolo offers frozen packs of their delicious pizza, plus kid and adult-sized hoodies and tees for the pizza fans on your gift list. Another option is Square Pie Guys, which sells funky tees, hats, aprons, tumblers and more.– For the coffee enthusiasts, check out the merch, fresh-roasted coffee and coffee-related goods, including some holiday bundles, from AndyTown Coffee Roasters.
– Beer aficionados will enjoy gift cards, beer gifts, glassware, hats, beanies, tees, hoodies, face masks, totes, and more from Cellarmaker Brewing Company.
– The legendary Buena Vista Café has a fantastic online gift shop that sells everything from handcrafted glass holiday ornaments to shirts, hats, artwork, glasses, mugs, golf-related gifts and Irish coffee gift sets.
– If someone on your gift list (or give yourself a gift!) loves Cioppino, you can order Scoma’s three-course Cioppino meals — one option is fully cooked and comes with reheating instructions, and the other is uncooked and comes with instructions and a how-to video. (You’ll need to pick up the orders.) If you prefer online gifts, they also sell craft cocktail kits, glasses, olive oil bottles and apparel.
– Fiorella, the Italian neighborhood bistro with two Bay Area locations, offers gift cards, t-shirts and caps from their online ordering platform.
– If you or your gift recipients are dreaming of the islands, look no further than the tiki-themed gifts such as mugs, hoodies, tees, gift cards and an award-winning cocktail guide from Smuggler’s Cove. Liholiho Yacht Club is another tropical-themed option, with gifts such as hats, hoodies, bandanas, Topogato chocolate bars and rare whiskeys.
4) Put your money where your mouth is: Keep ordering takeout!
Even the gourmet chefs among us grow weary of cooking sometimes, and one of the best ways to keep your favorite eateries, breweries, cafes, and mobile food vendors solvent is to order takeout. The reservation platform Resy has a list of its Bay Area restaurant customers offering takeout and delivery meals.
Our food truck and restaurant Creator partners are always up to something good!
– You can order Little Skillet’s small or large Family Meal Boxes with mouth-watering items such as fresh, hot waffles and their famous fried chicken. Order pickup or delivery from their Oakland or San Francisco locations.
– If you’re craving Dim Sum, check out Hongry Kong’s menu where you can order frozen or ready-to-eat items for pickup (including their knock-your-socks-off egg custard tarts) at their Belmont location or delivery.
– With the cooler weather, warm, spicy BBQ is always a treat. Pick up Capelo’s Barbeque to go at four locations, including their To Go Counter in Redwood City.
And don’t forget, takeout isn’t limited to food-truck-friendly cuisine and other typical takeout foods — many of the Bay Area’s snazziest, Michelin-starred restaurants are offering their gourmet cuisine to go. Check out this list from Tock, which handles takeout from several high-end eateries such as Acquerello, Benu, Atelier Crenn, Pabu Izakaya, Tadich Grill, Commis, and All Spice. These are just a few options, so if you have a favorite, check their websites or search on platforms such as Resy, Tock and Open Table.
Many Bay Area restaurants are offering special holiday meal packages, such as Izzy’s Steakhouse Entertaining at Home menu, Wayfare Tavern’s Prime Rib Meal Kit, Cassava’s Christmas Dinner or multiple menu items from Jessie and Laurent. Celebrating the holidays at home with a savory meal from your favorite eatery means you’re off the hook for shopping, prepping, cooking and cleaning — and your support helps them remain open.
Together, we can make a difference
Between ordering takeout, buying gift cards and merchandise, donating, and volunteering, we can help our vital foodservice industry stay afloat.
Many purveyors and foodservice establishments ship products, so if you have friends or family who can’t make it back to the Bay Area for the holidays, make them feel less homesick with food and gifts from their favorite restaurants and breweries. Pay attention to ordering deadlines if you want products to arrive by a specific date.
Byline: Lee Ridley