When the Covid-19 pandemic began tearing across the country in March, leading to massive unemployment and loss of income, Congregation Rodef Sholom member Jennifer Lefferts knew she had to do something to help. The opportunity presented itself shortly after.
The San Anselmo resident heard from friends about a grassroots organization in Los Angeles called Dine11 (rhymes with “9-1-1”), which supports local restaurants while feeding food-insecure families and overextended health care workers.
Lefferts decided to start her own branch and brought in two fellow Rodef Sholom congregants, along with three other women. Today, Dine11 Marin’s operations have evolved into a crucial pipeline of support for the county’s restaurants and residents, many in dire financial straits.
Lefferts, who serves as Dine11 Marin’s executive director, said the nonprofit has raised about $110,000 from about 500 individual donors. The group also received $15,000 from the San Francisco Foundation, a grant-making organization focused on racial and economic equity.
“When this whole pandemic started, I knew right away I didn’t want to sit idly,” said Lefferts, who is raising her three children while running Dine11 Marin. “I felt a need to do something to help our community.”
The operation has a dual philanthropic approach: It purchases meals, bulk groceries and $20 gift cards from a rotating list of 30 local restaurants that have been hit hard by the pandemic, and then distributes those goods on a weekly basis to a variety of sites: Rodef Sholom’s donation pop-up; a Covid testing center in Novato; the Canal Alliance, a nonprofit that provides services to the county’s Latino immigrant population; and the Fairfax-San Anselmo Children’s Center, an affordable day care center.
Since early April, Dine11 Marin has delivered nearly 7,000 meals (including groceries) and more than 2,700 gift certificates, Lefferts said. The group, run by the six women, manages an army of 100 volunteers who help with distribution.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, dozens of Bay Area restaurants have been forced to close permanently, according to a list updated daily by the San Francisco Chronicle. Some restaurants in Marin County, especially those frequented by tourists, have seen a 96 percent drop in business. At the same time, food insecurity in California has exploded as the state’s unemployment rate remains at a steady 16.3 percent.
“We saw a real need to help out,” said Laurie Dubin, Dine11 Marin’s director of fundraising.
Dubin, a retired attorney and founder of Be the Influence and Marin Healthy Youth Partnerships, which work on adolescent substance abuse in Marin and San Francisco, said Dine11 Marin’s focus changed about a month into operations. The group originally delivered meals to front-line health care workers, but after noticing that this population already had a good amount of support, it decided to focus its efforts on food-insecure families.
“We found that hospitals were getting fed by so many organizations,” said Dubin. “We shifted to families in need.”
Dubin also mustered the help of her son, Alex, 23, a bilingual Spanish speaker, to help communicate with workers and managers in Dine11 Marin–supported local restaurants, many of them Latino-owned.
The Dine11 model, started by Chris Sey and Lola Glaudini of Los Angeles, has expanded to five other regions, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City, Washington, D.C., and Long Island. The main Dine11 website provides a guide for those who want to launch a program in their own city.
Robert Wellbeloved, owner of Magnolia Park Kitchen in San Rafael, said his restaurant’s partnership with Dine11 Marin has allowed him to keep all 11 of his staff members employed for the time being. The restaurant, which serves American cuisine, was about to close after the start of the pandemic in March, Wellbeloved said.
But then he got a call from a Dine11 Marin team member, asking if he’d be interested in partnering up.
“It was such a home run,” said Wellbeloved. “I’m truly grateful for being able to work for them and put food back into the community.”
On June 29, the Marin County health department announced that restaurants could open for indoor dining as long as they arranged for customers to follow social-distancing protocols. Wellbeloved, whose restaurant has outdoor seating, said he isn’t ready to serve patrons inside.
While Lefferts says that Dine11 Marin has enough money to last until the end of the summer, she says she’d like to see the program continue for as long as possible.
“We’re hoping to get more funds,” she said. “I don’t think the need is going away any time soon.”