4 UC Berkeley students launch SF Food Friends in response to COVID-19 pandemic

Nitasha Goyal/Courtesy

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SF Food Friends is a platform created by four UC Berkeley students that matches vulnerable people with low-risk individuals who will deliver their groceries, prescriptions and meals.

The SF Food Friends team is made up of graduate students Nitasha Goyal, Oluwatoni Adetayo, Marie Rajon Bernard and Marcel Schaack. The team created the platform together while in quarantine due to the COVID-19, or the coronavirus, pandemic. The team said it wanted to help those who were struggling and started working on the platform about two weeks ago before launching SF Food Friends on March 23.

“One way we could stop feeling useless would be by helping these people and connecting them to volunteers that could then help them buying like essential items and buying food,” Schaack said. “These people would be less alone in these kinds of situations we’re facing right now.”

The platform is currently partnered with Grocery Outlet, which works with the team by creating $20 care packages containing essentials such as meat, vegetables and fruit.

Adetayo said this can help provide a safer environment for grocery stores because those who might be symptomatic or at risk will not need to go to grocery stores, and the platform could help reduce the number of people in stores.

“We are also trying to reach out to small stores in San Francisco because I think that they’re the ones really struggling right now,” Bernard said. “They’re the ones at risk of having to close due to this pandemic. So, we’re trying to reach out to them and keep them going, help them deliver food and help them as we can.”

The platform matches individuals based on four key factors: distance, preferred language, preferred gender and whether they want a long-term or short-term partnership. Once the match is made, the volunteer and the person in need discuss what items to buy, payment methods, times and delivery methods. Individuals who sign up as volunteers are also vetted, which verifies the legitimacy of the volunteers.

The website is currently available in English and Spanish, and the match survey is available in English, Spanish and Mandarin with plans to add other languages such as Cantonese, Hindi and Arabic.

The team originally coordinated with Oakland At Risk, which helped launch the platform. They are currently working with Berkeley Mutual Aid and volunteer organizations in San Francisco like Meals on Wheels. They are also reaching out to the public through social media, schools like UC San Francisco and religious organizations.

“What further motivated me, more than just I want to help people right now, is just in general like that’s kind of what I chose to study engineering for,” Adetayo said. “To help people using my skill set and solve challenges that communities are facing.”

Contact Mela Seyoum at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @melaseyoum.