The COVID Clinician Meal Support Program

Frank Barbieri
7 min readMar 20, 2020
Covid front-line clinicians enjoy a meal at UCSF

Update 4/1/20: SFHospitalMeals is now national as Frontline Foods and partnered with World Central Kitchen. You can donate here and go here to get more involved.

The idea is simple: Support our local hospital clinicians who are working in wartime-like conditions and support our local restaurants who are really hurting at this time. We partnered with ER and ICU staff at UCSF Mission Bay, UCSF Parnassus, SFGH Zuckerberg and Kaiser on Geary as well as several local restaurants to make it happen.

In one day we generated enough pledges to provide 175 clinicians at four hospitals dinner for 45 days, and it continues to grow. By the end of the day we were overwhelmed by the community looking to replicate the program in their cities. We heard from folks in LA, NYC, Seattle, Cleveland and Boston. Below we attempt to open source our process so anyone can copy what we’ve done and replicate it for their city or town.

The Concept and Process

We tried to keep the program simple so we could launch fast. For that reason we avoided establishing or using a third party entity to collect and then distribute funds (such as GoFundMe, IndieGoGo, etc.). Instead we built a simple administrative system that matches donors to restaurants directly to clear payments on their preferred platform (Venmo, PayPal, Cash, Square, etc). So it’s built on human administrative overhead. If any brilliant minds out there have a better idea of how to automate, we’d love it.

The process for donors is simple:

1) They sign up to be a donor with a pledge amount here.

2) We log the interest and eventually assign the donor to a meal at a hospital.

3) We reach out to the restaurant for payment instructions.

4) The donor transfers funds directly to the restaurant via Venmo, CashApp, PayPal, etc.

5) Food is delivered from the local restaurant to the local hospital

Restaurants can sign up for the program with another form submission here.

We realize the weakness with this model is in order to minimize administrative overhead we set a high minimum contribution, $1,000. This way we’re only matching 1 donor with each restaurant per meal. Many ways this could be improved but none we’ve had time to develop. Ideally, we are trying to avoid taking funds directly which is why we use this model.

Update 3/23/20 — We held and recorded a zoom call to go over over all the details. You can view that here. The deck for that call can be found here.

Update 3/25/20 — We’ve established a National/Local Slack channel if you want to join the project or launch in your own city please DM or email us. Emails at the bottom of this post.

How to replicate this for your community

You can run this program in your community as well. Below we lay out the tools and processes we use to run it on our own. It’s definitely not perfect, so feel free to edit and improve upon it.


  1. Feed our clinicians who are stressed, tired, and generally don’t have time in this environment to make and bring their own food.
  2. Make the process as efficient and simple for the hospitals. They have a lot going on, so we do a bunch of work to make this as seamless for them as possible. For example, we have one restaurant make all the meals so there is one person we need to educate on the protocols and one person doing drop-off instead of 4–5 meals coming from a number of restaurants, causing more chaos. No matter what, we can’t make their lives any harder or more complicated. This means that we add a human coordinator to ensure that the restaurants are on-boarded with the proper instructions for food prep, delivery, etc. That person also makes sure that we stay in close communication with the hospitals as their protocols and environment change and we can still support them with the least amount of friction.
  3. Employ restaurants and their teams during this really difficult time. Due to many communities enforcing a shelter-in-place, our restaurant industry (and their suppliers/farmers) are getting decimated. We can keep them going by bringing them delivery business.
  4. Capture the amazing community interest to support both of these groups by giving them a clear channel for putting funds to work.
  5. Try to scale this up to support as many clinicians and restaurants as possible. This is last only because the first three are critical and this can’t be scaled up at the cost of the prior goals.
  6. Don’t cause chaos. Please don’t just send food to hospitals without having a representative there to coordinate it

The Team

This is how we set it up, but you may want to scale it up or down based on how big your program is.

  • Administrator(s) — One to two people. Responsible for overseeing it and making sure we bring in funding for it.
  • Coordinator — One person. Responsible for the day-to-day matching of restaurants to hospitals and eventually payment from Sponsor to Restaurant. Also responsible for communicating with Hospitals to understand and adapt to changing protocols.
  • Hospital Representative — We can’t emphasize enough how important this is. Hospitals are in crisis mode with many layers of protective measures in place. Don’t just start sending big unexpected shipments to them. One rep per hospital is ideal. We started with one person, Sydney Gressel, and she’s helped us navigate protocols and spread it to more hospitals responsibly. This is probably one of the most important steps to getting this right.
  • Restaurant Representative — One per restaurant. Chris Consentino was super helpful in helping us figure out the right process for food prep and delivery.

The resources

Restaurant Guidelines Chris Consentino established these instructions for restaurants to deliver the meals safely and effectively for cooks, drivers and clinicians. Linked here.

Hospital Launch GuidelinesSydney helped us develop these guidelines after working with us and the hospitals directly. Note that we contacted every administration and manager before beginning delivery. It would be the worst outcome possible if meals just start showing up at hospitals and create more confusion and waste during a critical time. Please work with your clinician partners to find out the right amount of meals, the right delivery time and the proper delivery procedures. Linked here.

Hospital Intake Guidelines — Sydney also created this doc to place at ED and Nurse stations to explain to clinician staff the process of receiving meals.

Master Spreadsheet — This is the spreadsheet we use to coordinate the program. It’s a Google Sheet so that a number of us can collaborate on it. There are a number of equally good ways to do this, but this was the one we chose. Linked here.

The spreadsheet is broken up into 4 key sheets:

  • Hospitals — Each row is a hospital we work with. Columns are the critical information including things like how many meals are needed for each shift, contact person and any specific delivery instructions. Currently we manually enter these, but you could create a form to support more groups if your operation was able to support it.
  • Sponsors — This is populated by a Google Form. We collect their name, contact information and the total amount they are pledging. Some donors pledge more than is needed for one meal, so we keep a tally how much they have paid out and how much is remaining.
  • Restaurants — This is populated by a Google Form. We collect their name, contact information, total number of people they can serve at a time, lead time required and any other constraints we should be aware of.
  • Matching — This is managed by the coordinator and it’s where they do the job of picking Restaurants from the list, assigning them to a specific meal at a specific Hospital and assigning a Sponsor to each meal. Right now this is manually done as it requires a lot of confirmations and coordination with each group to make sure it goes smoothly. We also track when payment has been made to ensure restaurants get paid by the Sponsors. Once the coordinator assigns all of the slots, they email all of the parties with instructions and confirms they are able to do it. They then track the deliveries and eventually route the payment method from the Restaurant to the Sponsor.

Ways to improve this

  • Scale up to support more hospitals (front-line workers of all types) and more restaurants. Currently it takes too much coordination to do this easily, but someone might be able to automate this into a platform.
  • Lower the Sponsor threshold. We wanted to make this as simple for us as possible and therefore need a Sponsor to be able to pay for an entire meal (~$1k) so that we didn’t have to chase down multiple sponsors per meal and potentially leave the Restaurants underpaid. You could run it as a GoFundMe (or similar) to take the funds and then be responsible for direct pay-outs. Or integrate with another service that aggregates the smaller payments into $1k chunks for payout.
  • Make it tax deductible. There are a lot of dollars that could and want to flow into this if it were a proper 501c3.
  • Do this for places that aren’t hospitals but need help.

Lastly we encouraged all donors, clinicians and restaurants to use the hashtag #SFHospitalMeals and #HospitalMealsUS to track and promote the program.

We will update this post as we learn more. Feel free to comment or send us ideas on how to improve things as well. This is meant to be a living doc.

Lastly, a HUGE thank you to all of our front-line clinicians and responders working to keep us all healthy and safe. And to our friends in the restaurant industry, this is an unprecedented and brutal time for them. Without extreme intervention from the government many of them will go out of business for good and a lot of our most vulnerable population will be at extreme risk.

Frank, Ryan and Sydney

For more information please visit Frontline Foods.



Frank Barbieri

SF, New York, digital media, startups and stuff. Sailing, traveling, great scotch and lots of love for @tiboshi!