Anita Qualls, a 2019 University of Georgia graduate, was supposed to be in Cambridge, England doing her master’s research until the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Now, she’s back at her home in Johns Creek leading a team of more than 60 former and current UGA students in Feed the Frontlines GA, a nonprofit teaming with local restaurants to provide hot meals to healthcare workers across Georgia.
The nonprofit, which officially began fundraising through its GoFundMe page last week, has raised over $10,000 as of press time. It has also delivered meals to Emory St. Joseph’s Hospital, the intensive care unit at Grady Memorial Hospital and University Hospital in Augusta, among others, said Aditya Sood, the organization’s other co-director.
Feed the Frontlines joins the many nonprofits, businesses and individuals working to support healthcare workers, from doctors to nurses to janitorial staff, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, such as Marco’s Pizza, which is offering free pizza to health care workers and first responders, and the UGA College of Engineering, which is producing face shields.
Qualls, a soon-to-be medical school student, was inspired to start the nonprofit after talking to a friend studying at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York who suggested she raise money to buy food from local restaurants to feed frontline health care workers.
“This is taking an extreme toll on healthcare workers and many of them are not able to go and grab food during their shift,” Qualls said. “To give them a meal and say, ‘We're thinking about you, we appreciate your hard work,’ it's something so nice and just a small gesture that we can make to impact the situation in Georgia in a small way.”
She then called Sood, a fellow 2019 UGA graduate and friend, to get the nonprofit launched. As a student at the Emory School of Medicine, Sood said getting involved was a way to start helping even if he wasn’t able to help on the medical side of things.
“It’s a weird time to be a medical student because it seems like now would be the time that we could help most. But in reality, now's the time you can help the least,” Sood said. “A lot of [us] medical students … wanted to do what we can to help and this is one way of doing that.”
Sood has used his experiences in leading nonprofits to help build the infrastructure of the organization, which consists of finance, marketing and operations teams, as well as coordinators in Atlanta, Albany, Augusta, Macon, Savannah and Athens working to contact local hospitals and restaurants.
All of the volunteers and coordinators work from home and Qualls said they partner with restaurants to deliver the food to hospital liaisons to limit personal contact. Some of the restaurants include The National, Donderos’ Kitchen, Chuck’s Fish, Farm Cart, The Expat and Jinya Ramen Bar.
In Athens, Jessica Ma, a senior sociology and women’s studies major from Johns Creek, is leading two other volunteers with her co-coordinator, Avni Ahuja.
Like Sood, Ma said she was frustrated with all the problems COVID-19 was causing but not knowing what she could do to help. Getting involved has helped her find somewhere to channel her time and energy.
“I'm still sheltering in place, I can still practice social distancing. But I can still do something tangible that I know is contributing, even in the smallest way to help make someone's life a little bit easier during this crazy time,” Ma said.
The local team has reached out to St. Mary’s Hospital and Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center to start setting up meals.
On April 13, Feed the Frontlines will deliver 60 meals from Athens Bagel Company to healthcare workers at Athens Piedmont Regional Medical Center.
Ma said there’s been an outpouring of support from local businesses who’ve already pledged to support Feed the Frontlines. In the future, Ma hopes to arrange more meals.
For Ma, the mission of the organization is two-fold: supplying healthcare workers with hot, nutritious meals and to support local businesses who have also had to lay off workers amidst the pandemic.
“I’m a huge foodie and I’ve become pretty familiar with the food scene here in Athens,” Ma said. “It was just really devastating to think of some of those businesses potentially having to close or having to lay off their employees, so I also wanted to try and help support them as much as I could through this as well.”
While Qualls is proud of the amount of money the organization has already raised, one of the hurdles she sees is raising enough money to sustain Feed the Frontlines’ mission for the unknown duration of COVID-19. The $10,000 the nonprofit has raised so far is only able to provide meals for about 10 hospitals a week through the end of April, Qualls said.
To combat the financial problems, the nonprofit’s finance team is contacting businesses about corporate sponsorships while the marketing team is working on setting up fundraising challenges.
The first of the fundraisers will take place next week among students of Georgia’s five medical schools and will include themed fundraising days, Qualls said.
For now, however, Feed the Frontlines has been doing exactly what it set out to do.
“I think the coolest thing is just seeing smiles in the photos of deliveries, as well as hearing smiles from the people that we’ve ordered from,” Sood said. “And just seeing that we’re able to help out people that are our neighbors.”