Writer couple Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman (ANDY FREEBERG)
Writer couple Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman (ANDY FREEBERG)

Prominent Berkeley writer’s coronavirus relief effort helps restaurants and hospital workers

Berkeley writer Ayelet Waldman has found a novel way to help East Bay restaurants and hospital workers at the same time: buying food from one to give to the other.

Waldman has been crowdsourcing donations to buy meals from struggling restaurants, then delivering them to hospital emergency rooms. It’s a way to prop up local businesses that have taken a hit as people stay at home during the coronavirus pandemic, while supporting health workers on the front lines of caring for sick people.

“You want to send the ER staff something that is special, that is yummy,” she said.

The idea came to her after she had ordered a to-go meal from Oakland’s Brown Sugar Kitchen, owned by her friend and celebrated chef Tanya Holland, and heard about an ER doctor who had been gifted a meal.

“I thought, oh, genius, so I said to Tanya, can you make 25 meals and I’ll take them over to Highland?” The impromptu gesture cost Waldman just under $600.

“The ER was incredibly grateful,” she said. “They were so happy.”

It went over so well that Waldman and her writer husband, Michael Chabon, decided they would do it once a week. Then she had an even bigger idea.

“It occurred to me I could just scale this up, and if we started accepting donations we could do this more,” she said.

With organizational help from Jenny Schwarz of Oakland restaurant Hopscotch, Waldman began soliciting donations to order from locally owned and community-oriented businesses. She has been driving the meals to hospitals herself (so far, Highland and Summit).

Waldman also created a form for restaurants that wanted to be included on the list and was quickly overwhelmed with responses. “I’ve got hundreds,” she said. “It’s so sad.”

The first $12,000 raised paid for 20 lots of 25 meals each. It’s not cheap, Waldman said, because the idea is not to penny-pinch.

“We don’t want to bargain, right?” she said. “The idea is we want to sustain our restaurants.”

Donate to gofundme.com/f/feeder. Restaurants can contact Waldman at ayeletw@gmail.com to be added to the list.

Maya Mirsky
Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a J. Staff Writer based in Oakland.