Meet Isabella Di Pietro, co-creator at Feed the Frontlines NYC along with her father, Luca Di Pietro, owner of Tarallucci e Vino. Along with the rest of their family, dozens of restaurant partners, and countless contributors, they’ve provided over 150,000 meals to frontline workers and New Yorkers in need.
Q: What inspired the creation of Feed the Frontlines NYC?
A: Feed the Frontlines NYC grew out of generosity and necessity. Back in March, when Mayor de Blasio ordered that all restaurants close except for take-out and delivery, that immediately hit our family’s restaurants hard. My father had to shut down 4 of his 5 Tarallucci e Vino locations and lay off 95 of his 102 employees — many of whom had worked for him for more than 10 years. My father opened his first café in 2001, six weeks before 9/11 — so the restaurants had been through a lot, but it was nothing like this.
That’s when a family friend named Adair Roberts reached out. She asked if she could place an order from my family’s remaining open restaurant and have it delivered to frontline workers battling the pandemic. This was right at the time when NYC hospitals were becoming overwhelmed and hospital staff barely had time to step away from their patients, take off their PPE and keep themselves nourished and energized.
So two days later, on March 19th, my parents made the first delivery of 40 dinners – lasagne, salad and freshly baked cookies – to the hard working ER staff at NYU Langone on 1st Avenue. And the reaction we got was amazing. The staff who came out and got the meals were so grateful that someone from the outside was thinking of them. And they loved the food.
That’s when my dad thought, what if we could get more generous people like Adair to contribute to deliveries like this one, and bring more local restaurants in to help? That way, we could support the incredible efforts of healthcare professionals while allowing restaurants to hire back employees and stay afloat through the crisis.
So the next day, I started building the website with one of my friends from college. We launched it 18 hours later, on March 21st, and immediately the contributions started pouring in. We raised over $25,000 in the first 24 hours – and the average donation was under $180. So from the beginning, it was really a grassroots, community effort of people responding to this crisis.
Q: What kind of impact has Feed the Frontlines made on frontline workers? And on participating restaurants and their staff?
A: To date, our restaurant partners have provided over 145,000 meals to over 100 different facilities, including 60 hospitals. For the first few months, our efforts were entirely focused on the health care community as hospitals were filling up and, in some cases, overflowing. But as the curve flattened towards the end of the spring, we were listening to estimates of how many more New Yorkers were struggling to put food on the table because of the pandemic’s economic fallout. Before the pandemic, about 1.2 million New Yorkers were considered food-insecure. Now, that figure has roughly doubled largely due to widespread unemployment. That includes about 150,000 NYC restaurant jobs that have been lost.
And it wasn’t just estimates. I was working out of Tarallucci e Vino’s Upper West Side location every day in the early months and I started to see the line for our local food pantry snaking around the block.
Q: What has the experience of building Feed the Frontlines NYC during the pandemic taught you about what the future of the NYC restaurant industry could look like?
A: The past several months have both shed light on and exacerbated many of the systemic failures and inequities that existed well before the pandemic. And in our experience at Feed the Frontlines, it’s caused many small business owners to open their eyes even more to the need directly in their neighborhoods. We hear from our partners all the time how rewarding it is to be able to support their local supportive housing program for seniors or homeless shelter they didn’t know was there prior to the pandemic.
We’ve been fortunate to facilitate this virtuous circle of sorts: generous community members are donating to help local restaurants nourish those in that same community who most need the support. And the restaurants that have been involved in this work want to keep doing it when we see the other side of the pandemic. So it’s not hard to imagine a future where restaurants can play a larger, more consistent role in addressing food insecurity in their communities. Imagine if all of the 10,000 or so independent restaurants across New York City knew where they could drop off meals in their neighborhood – and they were given some financial support to do so consistently. If we help businesses survive right now, that kind of future is attainable.
Q: What will restaurants need to survive possible imminent shutdowns from a second wave?
A: We’ve seen that when programs like Feed the Frontlines NYC can provide consistent meal orders to restaurants, it can truly keep them afloat. We’re doing everything we can to secure more funding to bring more restaurants into our efforts, but in order to save restaurants in NYC and across the country at scale, they need robust government assistance. Specifically, we need Congress to pass the RESTAURANTS Act. It’s a bill that has bipartisan support and would provide direct relief in the form of grants to small businesses and their workers. Any call for restaurants to shut down again because of the virus must be accompanied with government relief.
Q: How can the NYC community support Feed the Frontlines and restaurant owners throughout the rest of the pandemic?
A: The most direct way to support our efforts is to donate through our website so that our partners can provide more meals to the New Yorkers who need them most. Any amount helps, and it truly makes a difference to communities in need and the restaurant supply chain.
You can also add your support to the RESTAURANTS Act by signing this letter and getting your friends and family to do the same. It takes less than a minute.
I also always encourage people to support their favorite local businesses by ordering take-out and delivery, and by following all safety guidelines – including wearing a mask and social distancing – when dining in person. It also makes a difference to order by calling the restaurant directly, rather than going through third party apps that take large fees. Restaurants and their employees are under an incredible amount of stress right now, so if you’re able to consistently support them by giving them business and tipping generously, it really can help. And if you like to write reviews, please keep these stressful conditions in mind when doing so. Small businesses and their employees are doing their best to adapt and survive, and they deserve our support and compassion now more than ever.