Alumna's Homegrown Initiative Feeds Healthcare Heroes and Lifts Restaurants

Healthcare Personnel holding lunch boxes

Feed the Front Line Charlotte gathers donations and then gives those to local restaurants so they can supply meals for healthcare workers in Charlotte.

Like millions of Americans, Jenna Brunner ’17 and her Wells Fargo colleagues quickly adjusted to working from home. But it wasn’t long before conversation during weekly work-at-home meetings turned to how they could make a difference in the community.

In a matter of days, inspired by a similar program in Texas, they developed an initiative with a two-fold purpose: to deliver thousands of meals to front line healthcare workers in Charlotte and help generate revenue for local restaurants.

Brunner and three teammates created Feed the Front Line (FTFL) Charlotte.

As of last week, just three weeks after the official launch, the group surpassed $50,000 in donations, which equals 5,000 meals. Every dollar given to FTFL goes directly to the partner restaurants, who then prepare and deliver meals to Charlotte hospital workers.

“The goal was to be as efficient as possible in getting this off the ground because the need was, and continues to be, very urgent,” Brunner said. “Just last week, we ramped up to three deliveries per day—that equals 1,400 meals between Sunday and Friday.”

The restaurants have been generous, throwing in extra meals with the orders and making their dishes available for lower cost so each donation does more. Currently, there are close to 20 partner restaurants, including Haberdish, Crepe Cellar Kitchen & Pub and Growlers Pourhouse, all run by Davidson alumni Jeff Tonidandel ’98 and Jamie Brown ’99. The pair also owns Reigning Doughnuts and is in the process of opening a fifth concept.

This is a hard time for restaurants, big and small,” Brown said. “Prior to COVID-19, we had businesses based highly upon creating an experience for guests, and now we've been reduced to take-out. It's a totally different business. We've also lost a gigantic portion of our team, and there has been a lot of emotion around that loss. Still, we are keeping our chins up, and trying to find ways to get through. FTFL Charlotte is a part of weathering this storm.”

While restaurants have suffered significant job and revenue loss, this partnership helps with those who are still working every day.

I think a big benefit in being a part of FTFL Charlotte is the boost of morale among our team members,” Brown said. “Our staff takes pride in making these meals for our healthcare workers. It's an incredible opportunity to feel like we are part of the solution and part of keeping our front line workers fed.”

As fundraising grows, FTFL will add more partners.

“It’s very clear that people are looking for ways to give back during this time. Luckily, getting involved with FTFL Charlotte is something you can do from the comfort of your own home, while abiding by the various stay-at-home restrictions in place,” Brunner said. “What's unique about our organization is that we launched as a youth-led, local, grassroots campaign. Because of this, we are able to be incredibly nimble and fast-acting with our approach to deploying funds raised. On top of that, we are completely volunteer-based and very transparent that 100 percent of every dollar donated (minus transaction fees) goes directly to our restaurant partners, and ultimately to our front line workers in the form of meals.”

Most of the work of the FTFL team happens from their homes, but they have joined in a few deliveries. They also regularly speak with restaurant partners and meal recipients.

“We’ve had restaurant owners on the phone almost in tears because they might not be able to pay next month’s rent, and we’ve heard from healthcare workers who are incredibly gracious and feel very supported by their community right now,” Brunner said. “It makes me emotional to think about … it’s really special.”