SF Food Friends matches volunteers with those who need deliveries of essential goodsOne month ago, Marcel Schaack (MEng ’20) and Nitasha Goyal, a Master in Translational Medicine (MTM) student, along with two other Berkeley master’s students, Marie Rajon Bernard and Oluwatoni Adetayo, launched a platform called SF Food Friends. The platform matches low-risk individuals with homebound people in their neighborhood to provide assistance for grocery shopping, buying essential items or medications, and delivering food. The four students wanted to enable and empower people within communities to help each other during this time, while simultaneously trying to reduce the risk and spread of coronavirus transmissions. They noticed that those in San Francisco, CA who were elderly, sick, or immunocompromised were facing unique problems that hadn’t been addressed yet by other organizations. By connecting people requiring assistance with volunteers living close by to them, the platform creates trusting relationships between the matches and minimizes unnecessary travel. SF Food Friends continues to grow, partnering with local grocers to provide packages of food, expanding their network of volunteers, and finding ways to aid those in financial need. We were able to talk with Marcel about SF Food Friends, what he and his friends are currently tackling, and what community members can do to help.
How have these first few weeks been for SF Food Friends?“The first few weeks have been going very well! We have been working on four fronts, really:
-  Connecting to volunteers in San Francisco by doing outreach and partnering with organizations/grocery stores that spread the word for us.
-  Contacting SROs and other people in need. We have been getting a lot of requests recently from different people through that.
-  Finding more grocery stores to partner with to provide low-cost ‘care-packages’ with groceries for one to two weeks for the people in need. These packages limit the risk of coronavirus transmission as they are prepackaged and can also help people that are financially insecure. We are currently working with a store in the Mission and one in Excelsior to offer these.
-  We want to develop a way to start being able to finance these packages. As unemployment rates continue to rise many people are finding it harder to support themselves and their families. Providing a free care package is the next step.
What is next for SF Food Friends?We are very excited to just bring our efforts to the next level, by helping more and more people in San Francisco (and we hope to get more volunteers for that). There are many other smaller neighborhood organizations and we have developed a network for open communication and easy transfer of resources between our groups to create a consolidated effort forward. We are specifically very excited in increasing our collaboration efforts with other SF organizations such as SF Community Support to help people together more effectively! Moving forward, we would love for our grocery store care packages to apply to more people. By collaborating with other organizations we hope to be able to expand the number of people that can benefit from our collective efforts.
What has your team learned in the past month through working on this platform?One big thing we learn every day is that despite all the sad things happening around us currently, there is still so much good and so many great people. I have been speechless multiple times hearing about what great things our volunteers and also other San Francisco community organizations have done! This is especially true for the other universities we have contacted for support. City College of San Francisco has been incredible in helping spread the word and supporting us. We see people from all over the city coming together to try and uplift SF. Through these efforts, we continue to learn about the issues the people in our city face. Unfortunately, we have also learned that as these shelter-in-place regulations and coronavirus-related difficulties continue, people are starting to have an increasing amount of struggles. We hope that through our collaborations we will be able to alleviate some of the added burdens on our community members. Furthermore, I would really say we learned that you are never too helpless or ‘stuck-at-home’ to help other people. If in the beginning of this platform’s conception we were told where we would be right now we would not have believed it. But we arrived here by caring about what we are doing, doing one thing at a time, and being in touch with great dedicated people willing to help.
How can those in the community help?Currently, I would probably say finding more volunteers is our limiting factor! We continue to want to keep our matching as local as possible and not encourage unnecessary travel to other neighborhoods. Although we have a growing volunteer base, they are scattered throughout the city, meaning if we have a high volume of requests in one area, we need a high volume of volunteers in that one area. We would love the community to know that they can still sign up and volunteer with us!”
“We arrived here by caring about what we are doing, doing one thing at a time, and being in touch with great dedicated people willing to help.”Sign up to receive help or become a volunteer through the website: https://www.sffoodfriends.org/ Contact Marcel Schaack, Berkeley MEng ’20 (BIOE) for inquiries. email: firstname.lastname@example.org Learn more about the Fung Institute at funginstitute.berkeley.edu.
How one group of UC Berkeley students is empowering their community was originally published in Berkeley Master of Engineering on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.