With restaurants struggling across the nation and healthcare workers working around the clock, Isabella M. Di Pietro ’20 and her family were inspired to start an organization that provides a way to support those frontline healthcare workers — while keeping the family restaurant business afloat.
The organization, called “Feed the Frontlines," was inspired by the mounting pressures restaurants face under social distancing guidelines. Di Pietro’s father owns and operates the Italian restaurant chain Tarallucci e Vino in New York City. When Governor Andrew M. Cuomo ordered restaurants to stop offering dine-in services, her father was forced to close four of his restaurant’s five locations and lay off almost all of his employees.
Then a friend gave them an idea: what if there was a way to keep the restaurants running while also supporting frontline healthcare workers? With the help of several other Harvard seniors, Di Pietro launched a fundraising campaign online and began to spread the word on social media.
“I started to talk to many of my friends who were sitting at home, feeling anxious, nervous, and often bored and trying to find a way to do something from where we sit,” she said.
The initiative got off the ground quickly and raised over $50,000 by the second night, according to Di Pietro. She said she was overwhelmed by the amount of phone calls she received from hospital coordinators who wanted to place orders.
Despite the chaos, the family found the new work rewarding. Di Pietro said her dad felt “like Santa Claus” when he did one of the first few deliveries.
It costs $25 to donate a meal, which includes the cost of food, wages for restaurant workers, and delivery. The organization had raised more than $500,000 and served a total of 6,750 meals to 13 different hospitals as of Tuesday night. The average donation is under $200, according to Di Pietro.
As a result of the fundraising, Tarallucci e Vino has been able to bring back 30 of its workers and reopen another of its locations dedicated solely to meeting demand for Feed the Frontlines.
Eleonore L. Evans ’20, one of four other Harvard seniors helping with the initiative, said that the work has made her feel empowered her to make a difference during the crisis.
“For me personally, it’s hard to be at home, not able to go anywhere and feel like so much of this pandemic is out of your control,” she said. “This is a great way that I feel like I’m doing just a small thing to help those who are in a much tougher position than I am.”
Evans, a History and Literature concentrator, is helping with marketing and social media efforts. She said that engaging in public service while at Harvard had shown her the “power of young people with a mission and a goal.”
Feed the Frontlines sister organizations have also sprung up in Boston and Toronto, inspired by the organization’s success in New York City. Di Pietro said that the New York City-based operation is considering filing paperwork to become a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit.
Di Pietro said that managing Feed the Frontlines has taken up almost all of her time and energy, and that she’s considering taking the remainder of the semester off in order to focus on the organization.
“I fall asleep at it at night. I’m usually woken up by a call in the morning,” she said.
“I’m still showing up on Zoom when I need to be on Zoom,” she added. “It’s hard for me to set aside this work which feels so pressing.”
Correction: April 1, 2020
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Di Pietro's organization has filed paperwork to become a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit. In fact, the organization is considering doing so.
—Staff writer Joshua C. Fang can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jshuaf.