How You Can Support NYC’s Food System During COVID-19

by Deirdre Appel

COVID-19 is unhinging our lives in New York City. Despite the fact that staying at home is the best way to decrease the spread of the virus and support those on the frontlines, it’s common to feel a sense of helplessness and a drive to do more. Fortunately, there are still opportunities out there to support the city. The Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center has compiled a list of ways you can get involved, strengthen the food system and protect those most vulnerable. 

In every instance, all potential volunteers should familiarize themselves with the list of best practices for volunteering and ensure that they meet the criteria.

Volunteer your time delivering meals to vulnerable populations

What: With senior centers, churches and food pantries closed , organizations are struggling to ensure that those who need them are getting the meals they would have received in normal circumstances. Organizations throughout the city including s God’s Love We Deliver, Encore Community Services and City Harvest are working around the clock to get meals to those in need and are calling able volunteers to assist them.
Where: Throughout NYC
When: Ongoing
Best for: People who are healthy and physically able to walk long distances or who have their own transportation.
For more information: Visit here for full list of organizations seeking volunteers 

Prepare and pack meals for those in need

What: Just as organizations are calling for volunteers to deliver meals throughout the city, others like West Side Campaign Against Hunger and Citymeals on Wheels are also calling for volunteers to help prepare and package those meals.
Where: Throughout NYC
When: Ongoing
Best for: People who feel comfortable venturing outside but do not want to make deliveries.
For more information: Visit here for full list of organizations seeking volunteers 

Sponsor an online #GiveHealthy food drive to collect food for City Harvest or any other NYC food bank or pantry.

What: Sponsors (organizations or individuals) can easily set up an online drive at no cost.  Supporters purchase food items (online) that are delivered directly to the food bank or pantry the drive is supporting.  #GiveHealthy drives ensure that donations match what the food banks and pantries actually need. They also reduce food bank and pantry staff work at a time when there are fewer volunteers because of the pandemic.
Where: Online
When: Ongoing
Best for: Any individual or group wanting to organize a food drive, especially those organizations that have had to cancel their planned spring food drive.
For more information: Visit here to support City Harvest and here to support other NYC food banks and pantries.

Become a long-term volunteer packaging meals for Rethink Food NYC

What: In response to COVID-19, Rethink Food is ramping up production of individual to-go meals to make sure every New Yorker has access to healthy food. They need help producing upwards of 15,000 meals a day. Volunteers for numerous shifts will assist with everything from washing and chopping produce to packaging meals.
Where: 63 Flushing Ave., Bldg. 58, Suite 1B, Brooklyn, NY 11205
When: Weekly shifts are available Monday-Friday, from 9am-12pm and/or 2pm-5pm
Best for: People who are well enough to travel outside their home and are able to commit to a  weekly shift for the next three months.
For more information: Visit here

Donate money to Frontline Food NYC, Meals4Heroes, or other initiatives to feed ICU workers and support restaurants

What: Frontline Food NYC is a group of volunteers who care deeply about both our frontline workers and NYC’s prized independent restaurant market. For every $1,000 the fund collects, they offer funds to a local restaurant to provide 50 meals to one of their partner hospitals. Meals4Heroes works with local restaurants to feed our frontline heroes. To date, Meals4Heroes is only 24 days old and has already delivered 3,500+ meals, served 57 hospital units around NYC, and supported 16 local restaurants. A fuller list of other initiatives such as these two can be found here.
Where: Throughout NYC
When: Ongoing
Best for: People who have money to donate and want to support the NYC restaurant industry as well as the hospital workers
For more information: For Frontline Food NYC, visit here; For Meals4Heroes, visit here; and for more initiatives, visit here

Support your favorite restaurants by buying a gift card or ordering delivery

What: Restaurants are suffering from extreme financial hardships and need your support to survive. Do you have any favorite restaurants in your neighborhood? If you are not comfortable ordering takeout, consider buying a gift card from to use in the future, order wine if they are selling it, or even merchandise such as t-shirts, hats, or other items
Where: Your favorite restaurants
When: Ongoing
Best for: People who want to protect the local restaurant industry and would prefer not to venture too far from home.
For more information: Visit the restaurant’s website or Instagram page for updates on hours of operation 

Join an online cooking or baking class and raise money for a city charity

What: This online baking class run by will take place over Zoom. Participants will be guided through how to make sourdough bread either from an active sourdough starter or a yeast package. All proceeds are donated to Food Bank NYC to provide emergency food to vulnerable New Yorkers who may be quarantined, along with those impacted by the economic downturn. All donations are matched dollar for dollar by the Food Bank’s Board of Directors, up to $800,000. Every $1 provides 10 meals.
Where: Online via Zoom conferencing
When: Day 1: Fri 4/3, 9pm ET and Day 2: Sat 4/4, 9am ET
Best for: People who love bake or want to learn new skills during their time at home while also supporting NYC charities.
For more information on signing up: Visit here

Shop for your neighbor

What: If you live in an apartment building or neighborhood with older or immunocompromised residents, you might consider extending the offer to pick up groceries for them. While respecting that people may still enjoy these tasks and not want to be seen as incapable, depending on your relationship, you might want to offer a simple “Hi. I am running out to the store. Can I pick up any essentials for you?” or leave a flyer around your neighborhood offering support. One woman who did that wound up creating a website, Invisible Hands, that pairs shoppers with those in need.
Where: Your neighborhood
When: Ongoing
Best for: Those who want to help and build it into their own shopping routines
For more information: Visit here

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