Healthcare workers across the world are being hit hard right now. They are the frontline soldiers in the global war against the coronavirus. Aside from the grueling hours and increased risk of contracting the virus themselves, these doctors, nurses, and administrators have little time to care for themselves during this vital moment. We’ve seen the photos of exhausted health care workers with N95 respirator marks on their faces, we’ve seen doctors literally beg for people to heed the call to socially distance, and we’ve seen some of society’s bravest individuals breakdown over the lack of supplies and preparedness.
It’s harrowing, to say the least. Headlines are everywhere about how desperately health workers countrywide need personal protective gear to be able to do their jobs safely, but little is mentioned about just how much these health workers need one of the best morale boosters around — a good meal.
A small collective in New Orleans is trying to offer just that by buying restaurant-prepared meals from local chefs and supplying them to healthcare workers. Feed the Frontline NOLA began as a simple $60 order of Brazilian treats that founder Devin De Wulf and his wife, an ER doctor, purchased for a local hospital to boost morale. Six days later, after roping in De Wulf’s local Madis Graw group/ charity, the Krewe of Red Beans, and getting 25 small and independent local restaurants to join the effort, Feed the Frontline NOLA now supplies health care workers with restaurant-quality meals at almost every hospital in New Orleans.
The efforts of Feed the Frontline NOLA aren’t just supporting health care workers, though. They’re also giving much-needed business to struggling local restaurants.
“We’re literally the only reason that they’re still open for business, for the most part,” De Wulf says. “We’re feeding 1,400 meals at almost every hospital in the New Orleans area and we’re just trying to keep it going, cause COVID is not like a three-day weekend type of deal.”
While many with the means are donating to Feed The Frontline NOLA to help support local businesses and healthcare workers, red tape and strict rules from GoFundMe and Venmo have kept the group from accessing those much-needed donations. By April 1st, the group raised $91,083 — funds they wouldn’t be able to withdraw, according to GoFund Me and Venmo’s respective rules, until April 24th. With costs as high as $16,000 dollars a day, a waiting period that long isn’t sustainable for Feed The Frontlines.
“When you’re feeding people, there are two ways you could go about it,” De Wulf says. “You could go, ‘I’m going to make a big old pot of beans and save as much money as possible and make it as cheap as possible per person.’ But if you go that route, then you’re going to lose all your restaurants, because they won’t be able to sustain their business operations… we’re paying them so they make enough profit to stay open, but no more than that really. It’s like life support.”
In De Wulf’s haste to act, he simply didn’t have time to read GoFundMe’s rules and how they differ between individuals and charities.
“When I created it, it was obviously through the Krewe of Red Beans, which is a 501 3C nonprofit,” he explains. “Unbeknownst to me, they’ve got those rules, so I’m not going to see a penny of our GoFundMe money until April 25th.”
Venmo’s policies also took De Wulf by surprise.
“Venmo has a situation which normally you would never encounter — where there’s a limit of $20,000 in a seven day period that you can send to your bank account. So I’m waiting seven days before I can do that again. There’s also a limit of how much money you can pay people through Venmo. I hit that limit too, and every time I hit one of these limits it was like, ‘oh I learned a new problem that I didn’t realize existed.’”
These problems won’t likely be unique to Feed the Frontline — other community-run charities will run into similar problems if they use the popular cash-moving services. So far, GoFundMe and Venmo have done little to help De Wulf get the cash he needs to keep Feed the Frontlines operational and to keep the charity running. Instead, he’s taken a $30,000 bridge loan. He’s also set up the 501c-3’s website to receive donations directly.
“They can donate through that and the money will actually get to our bank account in a day,” he says. “So it’s pretty sweet.”
Money isn’t the only way you can help, Uproxx contributor Mark C. Stevens, who is a member of the Krewe of Red Beans explains:
“The community has really come together around this… Getting the word out, sharing articles, sharing on @Redbeansparade’s Instagram account… or if people have business contacts — if they want to sponsor a day of feeding all of these healthcare workers, it’s tax-write-off-able because we’re talking about a nonprofit.”
It isn’t just local businesses and workers that Feed the Frontlines NOLA is trying to prop up, either.
“We employ musicians and local artists as delivery people,” De Wulf explains. “We are supporting 25 local restaurants and feeding basically all the healthcare workers in our city. It’s the best use of money that anybody can really hope for right now. We have spent zero dollars on administrative fees. So the money really goes to what you’re donating it to, which is pretty cool.”
Visit feedthefrontlinenola.org to help, and yo GoFundMe and Venmo — maybe think about relaxing your policies in the middle of a global pandemic.