A famous author has raised more than $60,000 to deliver restaurant takeout to emergency room workers

  • Best selling writer Ayelet Waldman started bringing restaurant takeout to ER staff on a whim, hoping to help support local businesses and medical staff.
  • In less than a week, the project has grown to include more than 30 volunteers and has raised tens of thousands of dollars.
  • Waldman hopes to continue expanding to more hospitals, launch a website, and help other organizations and restaurants follow her lead. 
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As cities lock down to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, and hospital emergency rooms are overrun with serious causes of COVID-19, medical staff are exhausted, demoralized, and in many cases, living off food from vending machines. 

But in Oakland, California, ER workers at Highland and Summit hospitals have recently received fresh-cooked meals from local restaurants, courtesy of a fundraising effort spearheaded by New York Times best-selling author Ayelet Waldman. 

Waldman, who is also one of the screenwriters on the hit Netflix show "Unbelievable," decided to treat her local medical staff to a meal about five days ago. 

The staff were so emotional, Waldman felt compelled to continue. She put out a call on Twitter for restaurants interested in participating, and was quickly inundating with requests. 

Since then, the effort has evolved to include more than 30 other volunteers, and more than $60,000 in donations, including a GoFundMe page that's raised more than $28,000 and counting. 

Now, the FeedER project is expected to continue expanding, with plans to grow to serve the Kaiser and Alta Bates medical centers, and launch its own website in the coming days, all fueled by the work of volunteers and community donations. 

FeedER started with a lunch, and a plea to support local business

Waldman said she got an email from a local restaurateur asking people to order takeout to help support the business during "shelter in place" policies prohibiting usual dine-in options. 

Waldman immediately bought lunch. On the way to pick it up, she was chatting with a friend who worked in an ER. Speaking about the enormous stress of the job, the ER doctor mentioned in passing how wonderful it was that someone had recently delivered a meal to him at work. 

It gave Waldman an idea. She contacted a local restaurant with a request to prepare 25 takeout meals by 5 pm. When they were ready, Waldman loaded them into her car and rolled up to the emergency room, asking a group of medics: "Does anyone want dinner?"

She said the first staff member immediately burst into tears. Another said staff had been relying almost entirely on vending machines for food. Across the board, though, the gratitude was deeply moving, Waldman said. 

"It was huge. I thought, I could do this every week. I could afford to go to restaurants I love, and bring these meals that make a big difference to people. It's a win-win," she said. 

The project has raised $60,000 and counting in less than a week, and is now expanding to feed other hospitals

Since it began, other people in the area began to volunteer their time and money to fuel the project, growing FeedER from serving one meal a day, to 25-40 people, to serving two and now three meals a day. Waldman hopes to add a fourth daily meal service for the late shift, if possible. 

The program's reach has also expanded to three hospitals in the Oakland area (Summit, Highland, and the Children's Hospital) with plans to reach out to Kaiser and Alta Bates.

The logistics of the project has also become much more sophisticated — from Waldman's car, FeedER has grown to using a careful system of hygiene best-practices to keep the meals, volunteers, and recipients safe.

"You can't just have a dozen people showing up at the ER with meals," Waldman said. "We have a very safe, best practices-system, contacts at each hospital that are expecting us when we arrive."

And from a Venmo account, the project has expanded to having a fiscal sponsor, a bank account, and immaculate accounting.

Just five days after Waldman first thought of the idea over her lunch, FeedER has generated more than $28,000 in donations from the GoFundMe page alone, with an additional $38,000 in donations prior to that, Waldman said.  

Soon, FeedER will also have its own website, again courtesy of countless hours of volunteer efforts outside the normal 9-to-5 work day. 

'We are nourishing our community by feeding our heroic front lines'

Waldman said she never expected the one-off act of kindness to turn into something more, and the respond has been "beyond overwhelming."

But the need is clear: the Bay Area is only part-way through a three-week shelter-in-place order to contain the spread of the coronavirus. 

Amid the looming threat, Waldman said for herself, the secret to staying calm is to stay busy. 

"Crazy, insanely, busy," she said. to that end, 10 hour days of coordinating FeedER are a useful coping mechanism. 

But she also hopes to give others in the community a sense of ownership and empowerment, the ability to respond in a positive way to the pandemic.

"We are nourishing our community by feeding our heroic front lines, sustaining restaurants, and giving the community as a whole the chance to contribute," Waldman said. 

Many other projects have emerged in the past month to help generate funds and resources for people in need. But FeedER is meant to be accessible to everyone who wants to contribute, whether they can afford to give $1 or $1,000. 

"People are so scared. I'm so scared. But giving people a feeling that there's something they can do, even if it's just to donate $10, has been wonderful," Waldman said. 

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