June 30, 2020

Industry Spotlight: Off Their Plate

In this Industry Spotlight, we’re showcasing an organization Branch has supported during COVID-19 that aids two major sectors we focus on: Restaurants and Healthcare.

As restaurants rapidly shut down and hospitals experienced a surge in patients because of COVID-19, food service and healthcare workers were among the hardest hit. Off Their Plate emerged as an organization that aimed to help the frontline workers in both industries, dedicated to supporting the workers who come from and serve the communities most impacted by COVID-19. We spoke with Off Their Plate founding member Ruchi Desai about how the organization started, how they’re supporting both restaurant and healthcare workers at the same time, and what’s next.


What is Off Their Plate?

Off Their Plate (OTP) is a grassroots organization that started on March 15 in Boston by Natalie Guo. Operational in nine of the most COVID-impacted US cities and 100 percent volunteer run and, we set out to deliver nutritious meals to frontline healthcare professionals, while providing economic relief to local restaurants and their workers. Building an impactful, equity-focused, and locally-minded model in less than eight weeks enabled us to become an organization that is nimble to the evolving impact of COVID-19 and assess where the most acute needs are.


In early May, we decided to expand our mission and serve additional communities experiencing hunger within our nine cities while maintaining our goal to provide a reliable and sufficient economic lifeline to our restaurant partners as they navigate the coming months. As COVID-19’s impacts continue to unfold, OTP is committed to our communities, using our resources to take one thing “off their plate,” one meal at a time.


How did Off Their Plate start?

Natalie along with Boston-based chefs Tracy Chang (PAGU) and Ken Oringer (Little Donkey, Toro, Uni, Coppa) launched the organization in order to help the restaurant and healthcare sectors at the same time. The organization partners with restaurants to prepare nutritious meals for healthcare workers on the frontline of COVID-19. At least half of the funds raised are committed specifically to economic relief for local restaurant shift workers. They’ve partnered with Jose Andres and World Central Kitchen as their fiscal sponsor and donations engine.


From founder, Natalie Guo: “​I​ came up with the idea for Off Their Plate in mid-March, after my med school rotation in Boston was suspended due to COVID. I was seeing news about restaurants closing operations and laying off staff and thinking about how many of them likely had no safety net. A lot of my friends and colleagues were trying to figure out how to contribute to pandemic relief efforts. I realized that together we could create something that would provide income continuity for a portion of the millions of impacted workers, while also providing meals for our overworked, frontline healthcare workers. I was inspired to build a model that would enable donations to touch lives in our impacted communities twice.”


What are donation funds used for?

100% of donated funds go to our restaurant partners to prepare meals and provide economic relief to their workers. For every $100 donated, we can send 10 meals to the COVID frontline and restore ~3 shift hours to the community. For every $5k we raise, we serve 500 meals and support 150 job hours back online.


How does Off Their Plate select their partners?

In addition to working with more established partners, we have been committed to supporting the most vulnerable communities during this time. We conduct an ongoing needs assessment to inform our hospital outreach and focus on serving frontline workers in areas that are highly impacted by COVID-19 cases. We seek out restaurant partners who will ensure that at least half of the donations go directly to employee relief and focus on partners who operate in the neighborhoods of the hospitals they’re serving.


With reopening, how will Off Their Plate continue to support these communities?

One of our founding principles is to practice incredibly high safety and health practices. We’ve taken the lead on setting standards around meal preparation and delivery safety as well as operational tactics, producing a COVID-specific, expert-reviewed set of guidelines, which we’ve partnered with the James Beard Foundation and the Aspen Institute to publish. We plan to continue to be a resource to our restaurant partners as they navigate this new phase and hope that their learnings and assets can help the industry at large, from front of house to back of house and across the entire hospitality supply chain.


To learn more about Off Their Plate and for a full list of their restaurant and hospital partners, check out OTP’s ​website.​

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