How to Help: FrontLine Meals

Published on 12 May 2020

Photo: A healthcare worker with a delivery from FrontLine Meals

Exhausted healthcare staff and empty restaurants have become two sides of the same coin during the lockdown. Many initiatives have sprung up to keep one group of workers fed and the other group working, delivering meals from local restaurants to hospitals.

FrontLine Meals is a great example right here in Melbourne, with founder Natasha Oommen bringing her project-management prowess and love of food to an endeavour that’s about feeding our essential workers – and our city’s vibrant food scene. Natasha tells us what it’s all about and how businesses and individuals can get involved.

Why we started:

I realised that our lives had changed the first time I went to the supermarket during the pandemic and walked past row after row of empty shelves. I felt overwhelmed and came home wondering what had happened to our lives. I then heard stories of healthcare workers who would finish long shifts only to go into the supermarket and find nothing there. Looking at what was happening in Italy then, and the potential stress and vulnerability our healthcare workers would have to face, I felt I had to do something. At the same time, it was becoming apparent that our hospitality industry was going to struggle. I grew up in a home where food was the centre of a lot of our daily interaction, and a way of showing love and care. It seemed like a simple solution to care for our frontline workers by ensuring that they were nourished after a long day. Every day, they selflessly put themselves at risk to support our community. It felt like the very least we could do.

What we do: 

We raise funds and work with local restaurants and cafes in Melbourne to deliver fresh meals to hospital and other frontline staff. Through fundraising, the general public are essentially donating meals to feed frontline workers; the money also keeps local businesses alive. FrontLine Meals has established a pilot program with the Northern Hospital in Epping to provide meals to the ICU wards currently dealing with COVID-19 patients. We started our deliveries two weeks ago. 

Our points of difference:

There are a few differences between what’s out there and what we are doing:

1. Our target audience consists of all frontline workers, healthcare as well as emergency services (such as police and ambulance).

2. Based on the funds that we have, there is a guaranteed payment to the businesses involved. A lot of hospitality businesses that are doing similar initiatives are struggling to get funding to operate and are donating meals. We’re focused on keeping people in jobs.

3. We function very much like a community cooperative. Everyone who participates has an opportunity to be looked after and succeed.

4. We are a centralised solution for support. There’s a lot of crowdfunding pages around at the moment, with everyone tapping into the same donation pool. Our initiative allows for a coordinated effort across donors, delivery sites and hospitality businesses.

What success looks like for us:

We aim to deliver 24,000 meals over the next two months. We’ll be expanding to the greater Melbourne area and to other frontline services soon, and we aim to work with more hospitality businesses. This is a scalable model that we believe can improve the way our community responds to crisis situations, by creating a central hub to match need with supplier. After this pandemic is over, our vision is to grow and replicate this model in other crisis situations (such as bushfire relief) or for different target groups (including the elderly and the homeless).

How you can help:

If you’re a restaurant, café or caterer and your business is able to participate, we’d love to hear from you. Meals will be prepared for a set rate (between $5-$15 each), with quantities varying depending on the need of each shift. Please register your interest on our contact page.

If you’re an individual and you’d like to help, the best way to contribute is to make a donation through our mycause page. We’d also love for you to share our initiative with your personal and professional networks. If you have a story of how FrontLine Meals has made a positive contribution to your community, please share it via our Facebook and Instagram accounts.

If you’re a frontline response site and would like our support, please register your interest on our contact page.

If you’re a business wanting to help, you can do this by sponsoring this initiative with cash or by donating products that can be used by hospitality businesses to produce meals. Find out more.

If you’re a local council: This initiative crosses multiple council boundaries, so we would love all local governments in Melbourne to promote this initiative. We would also appreciate any grants that we may be eligible for to keep this going and support local businesses.

Find out more at frontlinemealsmelb.org.