clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Eater SF Guide on How to Help

Where to give, volunteer, donate food, and support local restaurants during the novel coronavirus pandemic

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - APRIL 20: Todd Corboy, Food Runner chef, carries boxes of food into the new Food Runners”u2019 kitchen at the Waller Center on Monday, April 20, 2020 in San Francisco, Calif. Lea Suzuki/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

If you buy something from an Eater link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics policy.

The pandemic has had a profound impact on the Bay Area, with more than 109,000 confirmed infections and 1,655 deaths as of October 14. Since the start of the various shelter-in-place orders in March, more than 9 million people in California have filed for unemployment. In the Bay Area, specifically, small businesses have shuttered at an alarming rate. One study indicated that in San Francisco, Oakland, and Hayward alone, at least 369 restaurants closed permanently in the first four months of the coronavirus crisis — a figure that continues to rise with each passing week.

The pandemic has dramatically compounded existing inequities: It has exacerbated the region’s ever-widening wealth inequality gap, accelerated its well-documented homelessness crisis, and had a disproportionate impact on Black and Latino communities. Food insecurity — already a struggle, especially for the Bay Area’s low-income and homeless populations — reached a crisis point in the early days of the pandemic, and has only become more of a challenge as the economy continues to sputter. With so many restaurants shut down or operating with skeleton crews, food workers have seen their employment opportunities dwindle — more than half have lost their jobs by one count.

Through it all, many Bay Area residents are asking themselves, “How can I help?” All over the Bay, ambitious restaurant-focused fundraisers are helping to deliver meals to people in need. Mutual aid networks have formed, allowing vulnerable elders and immunocompromised people to stay at home while their neighbors sign up to keep them fed. Food banks and other hunger-relief organizations are providing hundreds of thousands of free meals every day. And, of course, many of these efforts are looking for donations and volunteers. For this guide, Eater SF has compiled a list of resources for people looking for opportunities to give their time and money.

Eater editors focused on efforts based in San Francisco and the near East Bay — but of course, there are hundreds of organizations, big and small, spread all over the Bay Area that are doing this important work within their own communities. If you’re looking for ways to help elsewhere in the Bay during the coronavirus crisis, here are a couple of other lists to get you started.

Mutual Aid

At its core, mutual aid is about people coming together to help each other in a grassroots way — not a top-down approach where a charity or government agency controls the resources and makes the decisions about how to distribute them. Increasingly, during this pandemic, people are instead joining networks of like-minded folks to deliver groceries for their neighbors, or setting up free food refrigerators that the entire community helps maintain. Again, this list focuses on San Francisco and the East Bay — for mutual aid groups elsewhere in the Bay, check out these other directories.

SF Mutual Aid: By and for Bay Area residents, this community collective has neighbors helping neighbors by delivering groceries and medicine to the elderly, covering child and pet care, providing tech support, and more. Fill out the online form to pitch in.

SF Community Support: This grassroots effort is matching volunteers with neighborhood needs, including grocery shopping, prescription pickups, dog walking, and tech support. Fill out the online form to volunteer.

SF Community Fridge: This mutual aid effort maintains a fridge stocked with free food in the heart of the Mission District. It also partners with another food-focused mutual aid network, Mission Meals Coalition, to deliver groceries to high-need community members once a week. For those interested in dropping off food at the fridge, there’s a online drop-off guide and shopping list of culturally appropriate food items that project organizers would like to have available at all times. They’re also seeking volunteers and monetary donations.

Oakland at Risk: This volunteer network pairs up Oakland residents who are at high-risk for COVID-19 with volunteers — usually people who live in the same neighborhood — who then arrange to pick up groceries and supplies for their elderly and immunocompromised neighbors.

Berkeley Mutual Aid Network: This Berkeley-based network sets up high-risk individuals with volunteers who help with grocery shopping and other errands, or simply check in to offer some social connection.

Town Fridge: This network of refrigerators, placed in strategic locations around Oakland, provides free food to anyone who needs it. Anyone can drop off food donations at any of the refrigerators, or you can fill out an online form to volunteer to help maintain one of the specific sites — or even to host a fridge yourself.

TurnOut: This Oakland-based mutual volunteer network connects LGBTQ+ individuals who have been impacted financially by the coronavirus crisis with a variety of resources. Those in need of food, medicine, and other basic necessities can submit a request via this online form. Volunteers who have the financial resources to do so can help out by purchasing the requested items, which are listed on the organization’s COVID-19 relief registry. TurnOut is currently seeking volunteers and monetary donations.

Volunteer Opportunities

SF Mutual Aid: This community collective has neighbors helping neighbors by delivering groceries and medicine and providing other services for the elderly and immunocompromised. Fill out the online form to volunteer in your neighborhood.

SF Community Support: This grassroots mutual aid network provides grocery shopping, prescription pickups, dog walking, and other services. Fill out the online form to volunteer in your neighborhood.

SF-Marin Food Bank: The largest food bank in the city supplies a network of several hundred food pantries. The organization has seen a recent drop in volunteers, so sign up online to work a shift at a warehouse, help stock pantries, deliver groceries, or host a drive.

Food Runners: This San Francisco-based food rescue picks up excess food from restaurants and businesses, enabling it to provide 20,000 meals a week to those in need. Sign up online to become a runner and deliver groceries.

Project Open Hand: This nonprofit serves free meals and delivers groceries to the elderly. Sign up online for SF or Oakland to chop veggies in the kitchen, stack food in the warehouse, deliver groceries, and more.

Feed the Line and Frontline Foods: This restaurant relief effort focuses on paying restaurants to provide free meals to doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers. Sign up online to help with marketing, social media, coordinating with hospitals, and more.

Alameda Food Bank: This East Bay food bank, which helps feed food-insecure people living on the island of Alameda, is seeking volunteers — especially those who can make a regular commitment — to help with packing and sorting.

East Bay FeedER: This program aimed at providing restaurant meals to front-line healthcare workers in the East Bay is seeking volunteers to help with food deliveries and tech/administrative support.

East Bay Food Not Bombs: To help with its work in providing free vegan meals in Oakland and Berkeley, this East Bay collective is seeking volunteers to assist with food prep; it also needs licensed drivers to help with farmers market and supermarket food donation pickups.

East Oakland Collective: The Oakland-based organization is seeking volunteers to help with its efforts to feed homeless and low-income individuals — efforts that, during the pandemic, include delivering hot meals all over East Oakland.

Food Shift: The Alameda-based food rescue, which turns surplus produce into meals for the food insecure, is seeking food recovery volunteers, as well volunteers who can help with everything from social media management and web design to community organizing.

St. Vincent de Paul of Alameda County: Those interested in volunteering to help with the Oakland-based nonprofit’s extensive soup kitchen operation, which it runs on a takeout basis six days a week during the COVID-19 crisis, can email or call 510-877-9252.

Hunger Relief: Food Banks, Food Rescue, and Food Pantries

Food Banks, Food Rescues, and Distribution Organizations

SF-Marin Food Bank: The largest food bank in the city serves more than 110,000 meals a day, and has a network of several hundred food pantries, where people can pick up fresh groceries. They rely on thousands of volunteers to stock pantries, deliver groceries, and host drives.

Food Runners: This food rescue picks up excess food from restaurants and businesses, and makes sure it gets to the community, to prevent it from going to waste. It provides more than 20,000 meals a week in San Francisco. Help out by donating food, time, or money.

Alameda County Community Food Bank: Based out of a big warehouse in East Oakland, this food bank supplies food to over 200 different food pantries, senior centers, and other nonprofits, in addition to specific programs aimed at feeding low-income children and students. It’s accepting both monetary donations and food donations from commercial and retail food businesses.

Food Shift: The Alameda-based food rescue collects surplus produce that would otherwise go to waste, then redistributes those raw ingredients to other local organizations that are feeding food-insecure people in the East Bay. The nonprofit is currently looking for both monetary donations and volunteers.

Alameda Food Bank: This food bank is focused on providing food to food-insecure people living on the island of Alameda. During the coronavirus crisis, the food bank isn’t accepting individual food donations. Instead, the organization is mostly seeking monetary donations, as well as regular volunteers to help with packing and sorting.

Soup Kitchens, Pantries, and Shelters

St Anthony’s: This Catholic foundation has been feeding and sheltering the Tenderloin for 70 years. The dining room had to close during the pandemic, but they’re still handing meals out the door. They can’t take volunteers at the moment, but they still need donations.

Project Open Hand: This nonprofit serves 2,500 meals and delivers 200 bags of groceries every week to seniors in need. They’re taking volunteers in SF or Oakland, and accepting donations.

Glide: This social service organization has been showing radically inclusive love in the Tenderloin for 57 years. The daily meals program started as a volunteer potluck in the 60s and now serves 2,000 meals a day. Contact the organization at or 415-674-6081 for details about volunteer opportunities. Beyond that, Glide still needs donations.

West Oakland Food Pantry: Based out of the Prescott-Joseph Center, this food safety net program provides both fresh and non-perishable foods to food-insecure families in West Oakland. During the COVID-19 crisis, it has also been delivering food to homeless encampments in the area. The food pantry is soliciting both monetary donations and food donations.

East Bay Food Not Bombs: This volunteer collective serves hot vegan meals in Berkeley and Oakland six days a week and also distributes bagged meals out of its pickup truck. East Bay Food Not Bombs is accepting monetary donations. Volunteers can go to any of its kitchens to assist with food prep, and the collective is also looking for licensed drivers to help with farmers market and supermarket food donation pickups.

St. Vincent de Paul of Alameda County: A nonprofit dedicated to assisting vulnerable individuals and families in Alameda County, St. Vincent De Paul is probably best known for its extensive soup kitchen operation, which it runs on a takeout basis six days a week during the COVID-19 crisis. It’s accepting monetary donations. Those interested in volunteering can email or call 510-877-9252.

Community Organizations Providing Food Access

Mother Brown’s Dining Room: The United Council of Human Services is a homeless shelter in the Bayview-Hunters Point, where Mother Brown’s Dining Room is currently serving three hot to-go meals a day. Throughout the pandemic, they’ve also been offering free COVID testing and set up their own tent site.

People’s Breakfast Oakland: During the pandemic, the Oakland-based Black Socialist organization has offered a variety of volunteer-driven services, including COVID-19 testing and bail funds for Black Lives Matter protesters. It has also ramped up its best-known initiative: providing free food — as well as other supplies — to West Oakland’s homeless communities. It’s accepting monetary donations.

West Oakland Punks with Lunch: This volunteer-run, self-described “guerilla not-for-profit harm reduction outreach organization” distributes food and other supplies to people experiencing homelessness in West Oakland. The organization is accepting monetary donations; if you’d like to donate food, water, or supplies, email or send an Instagram DM.

East Oakland Collective: This grassroots organization focuses on addressing food insecurity in East Oakland. It’s best known for its massive Feed the Hood gatherings, which fed thousands of homeless people at a time — during the pandemic, the collective has been delivering hot meals to both homeless and low-income residents, and it’s converted Feed the Hood to a drive-thru model. The East Oakland Collective is accepting monetary donations; fill out this online form if you’re interested in volunteering.

Good Good Eatz: A new initiative created in response to the challenges facing Oakland Chinatown during the pandemic, Good Good Eatz has focused on supporting the neighborhood’s restaurants and markets — through marketing, social media promotion, and community events. It’s also partnering with World Central Kitchen and nearly 20 Chinatown restaurants to provide free meals for Chinatown residents in need, as well as for the broader Oakland community. Good Good Eatz is seeking donations, and those interested in volunteering can email for more information.

Worker and Restaurant Relief

SF New Deal: At the outset of the pandemic, the CEO of Twitch dedicated a million dollars toward helping small businesses, partnering with baker Lenore Estrada of Three Babes Bakeshop. To date, the restaurant relief effort has poured more than $10 million into small businesses and served more than a million meals to people in need. They’re accepting donations.

Feed the Line and Frontline Foods: Butcher Shop, a local creative agency, kicked off this restaurant relief effort that focused on getting meals to doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers. Once Feed the Line hit their goal of raising $175,000 and serving 10,000 meals to local hospitals, they folded the effort into Frontline Foods, part of World Central Kitchen. They’re looking for volunteers and are accepting donations.

Filipinos Feed the Frontlines: Struggling Filipino restaurants pulled together to help feed Bay Area healthcare workers. To date, they’ve raised more than $120,000 for Filipino food businesses and served more than 12,000 meals to frontline workers. They’ve recently expanded their efforts to include the Los Angeles area, and they’re still accepting donations.

Eat Learn Play/Restaurants for the People: Ayesha and Stephen Curry’s Oakland-based foundation, Eat Learn Play, pays local restaurants to provide meals for Oakland school children. The organization recently expanded its scope, partnering with World Central Kitchen on a new “Restaurants for the People” initiative that aims to support even more restaurants — and to feed a wide range of people in need beyond just kids. The foundation is seeking donations.

This Divisadero Bar Hopes to Lure in the Afternoon WFH Crowd with Coffee and Crispy Mochi

Best Dishes

The Best Dishes Editors Ate This Week

A.M. Intel

Staff Allege Bounced Paychecks and High Turnover Plagued Oakland Restaurant Hi Felicia Ahead of Sudden Closure

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Eater San Francisco newsletter

The freshest news from the local food world