The images of D.C. beamed onto television screens across the country often capture scenes of the White House, national monuments, reporters, lobbyists, and other representations of prosperity and power in the nation’s capital — but that paints an incomplete picture. For the last four months, the novel coronavirus pandemic has highlighted inequity in the District by exposing frontline workers in health care and food service to increased risk of catching COVID-19, disproportionately infecting and killing members of Latinx and Black communities, and leading to a spike in unemployment. The widening income gap in the United States is apparent just in the difference between the District’s Northwest and Southeast quadrants, especially east of the Anacostia River in Wards 7 and 8.
Since March 13, D.C. has reported more than 134,000 claims for unemployment. The city’s 9 percent unemployment rate in May was triple the size of the monthly figure from 2019. As of early August , Black residents accounted for 74 percent of D.C.’s reported deaths from COVID-19, despite making up about 46 percent of the population.
These figures exacerbate existing problems in Washington. A 2019 study from the Urban Institute showed that 11.9 percent of the D.C. population — and 21.6 percent of children — faced food insecurity. From 2000 to 2013, D.C. saw more than 2,000 African-American residents displaced from low-income communities, showing gentrification in about 40 percent of neighborhoods, the highest “intensity” of gentrification of any U.S. city. A 2017 study found that 82 percent of the city’s food deserts, or areas that combine high concentrations of poverty with low access to grocery stores and low rates of access to cars, were in Wards 7 and 8. Activists have adopted “food apartheid” as a more appropriate descriptor for inequities driven in part by public policy.
Communities that were already struggling to put food on the table now need more help than ever. A nationwide $600 supplement to unemployment checks ended July 25, putting more pressure on low-income families and forcing many back to work. Mutual aid networks, volunteer organizations, food banks, and, in some cases, massive restaurant groups have stepped up their efforts to minimize food insecurity across the greater D.C. area. Residents who are looking for ways to help have a range of options for contributing their time and money.
In this guide, Eater D.C. has collected and organized resources for where to give, what to give, and how to volunteer in and around the city and some suburbs in Maryland and Virginia. Editors have done their best to vet the charities, but it’s important for people to make sure when they give money or time that the organization they’re supporting aligns with their values and has a transparent, proven track record.
Mutual Aid Groups
Mutual aid refers to grassroots efforts that support people in need outside of official government programs and licensed nonprofits. At its simplest, it means neighbors helping neighbors. Mutual aid organizers create networks of volunteers and recipients by building online spreadsheets and digital intake forms. Here are options in the D.C. area:
Mutual Aid Movement D.C.: This group began in Columbia Heights and has since spread throughout the city, with an emphasis on supporting seniors, disabled citizens, and low-income families. It’s looking for volunteers, including people who can help make bulk purchases of deliveries and groceries, and load and unload them. Sign up here.
DC Mutual Aid Network: This group organized mutual aid networks by ward throughout D.C. and has a Facebook page where people can post requests and offers to donate goods here.
Ward 7 and Ward 8 Mutual Aid: This group is looking for volunteers, including people who can help with pickups and deliveries, grocery shopping, and packing, in Wards 7 and 8, the most eastern and southern sections of the city located across the Anacostia River. Sign up here.
Ward 5 Community Care and Mutual Aid: This group is looking for volunteers, including people who can prepare meals and pick up groceries, in Ward 5, a swath of Northeast that stretches from Bloomingdale, Truxton Circle, Eckington, and Union Market through Trinidad, Carver Terrace, Ivy City, and Fort Lincoln. Sign up here.
Ward 6 Mutual Aid: This group is looking for volunteers, including people to help with inventory management and shopping, in Ward 6, which spans across Capitol Hill, Hill East, H Street, the Navy Yard, the Southwest Waterfront, NoMa, Sursum Corda, Shaw, and Mount Vernon Triangle. Sign up here.
Ward 4 Mutual Aid: This group is looking for volunteers, including people to act as runners, aid in delivery follow up, and pitch in with supply packing and sourcing, in Ward 4, the northernmost section of the city that includes neighborhoods such as Shepherd Park, Takoma, Brightwood, 16th Street Heights, and Petworth. Sign up here and donate to the mutual aid fund here.
Ward 1 Mutual Aid Network: This group is looking for people to make grocery runs and fill care packages in every Ward 1 neighborhood except Mount Pleasant (Columbia Heights, Adams Morgan, U Street, Pleasant Plains, Park View, Shaw, LeDroit Park, Meridian Hill, Lanier Heights, Kalorama). Sign up here.
Mount Pleasant COVID-19 Response: Nonprofit Mount Pleasant Village and Advisory Neighborhood Commission 1D are coordinating a network of residents in the neighborhood who can run errands (within walking distance or by car), talk neighbors through coordinating grocery delivery website or apps, and assist with food aid planning and/or distribution. Sign up here.
Ward 2 Mutual Aid: This group is looking for volunteers to join teams for outreach and collection, administrative efforts, and care and distribution through Ward 2, which covers central D.C. neighborhoods from Georgetown through Foggy Bottom, downtown, Logan Circle, the National Mall, parts of Shaw, Convention Center, and Chinatown. Sign up here.
Ward 3 Mutual Aid: This group is looking for volunteers in Ward 3, which covers Upper Northwest neighborhoods such as Cathedral Heights, Chevy Chase, Friendship Heights, Forest Hills, Spring Valley, Tenleytown, and Cleveland Park. Sign up here and donate for grocery deliveries here.
The Table Church: The LGBTQ-friendly church with parishes downtown and in Columbia Heights is organizing a network of volunteers to help with several services, including grocery shopping for immunocompromised and elderly neighbors, in all eight wards, Silver Spring, Chevy Chase, Bethesda, and Arlington. Sign up through this form and donate to COVID-19 relief here.
Silver Spring Community Care and Mutual Aid: This group is looking for volunteers, including people who can prepare meals and make grocery runs, in Silver Spring, Maryland. Sign up here.
Northern Virginia COVID-19 Support: This group encourages donations to LaColectiVA, a Latinx collaborative effort supporting undocumented and migrant communities in Virginia, and the International Mayan League. For mutual aid, it’s looking for volunteers that can support indigenous and undocumented migrant communities in South Arlington, Centreville, Herndon, and other areas with grocery shopping, assembling food bags, and dropoffs. Sign up here.
Some charities that typically depend on volunteers have stopped accepting them to limit exposure to COVID-19. Others, like World Central Kitchen’s massive cooking effort out of Nationals Park, have provided personal protection equipment. These organizations are looking for people to help sort, pack, distribute, and deliver groceries or meals to seniors, immunocompromised recipients, and other community members in need:
Capital Area Food Bank: The DMV’s largest hunger-fighting group is in critical need of volunteers to help sort and pack food at its Northeast warehouse, as well as assist with offsite food distribution. Sign up to volunteer here.
World Central Kitchen: Celebrity chef José Andrés’s decade-old global nonprofit that helps feed communities grappling with natural disasters is accepting volunteers for its latest COVID-19 response effort, which included turning Nationals Park into a community kitchen. Sign up to volunteer here. There’s also a call for volunteer drivers to drop off weekday dinners to Ward 8 seniors.
Martha’s Table: The community nonprofit needs help sorting bags of groceries for distribution at its designated meal sites. Volunteers at its Southeast home base receive wholesale produce and pantry goods deliveries, restock food storage areas, and set up grocery bagging areas for the day. Sign up for a slot here.
Food Rescue US D.C.: Volunteers donate their own car and time (typically around 30 minutes) to pick up surplus food from grocers and restaurants, delivering unused goods to community kitchens and food pantries in need. Download the app to view the full schedule of local food rescue opportunities. Its $1 million COVID-19 response fund, which lets donors specify a particular Food Rescue US location or program, has raised around $800,000 to date.
Food & Friends: The decades-old D.C. nonprofit delivers meals to those battling serious illnesses. Volunteers are needed to help prepare and package meals and groceries.
Shopping Angels: Volunteer to deliver free groceries and necessities to local elderly or immunocompromised populations that need to stay home the most during the COVID-19 crisis. Click here to lend a hand.
DC Greens: Connect no-cost, local produce to underserved D.C. neighborhoods during the pandemic as a “Farmers’ Market Brigade” volunteer. The DC Department of Health-funded program distributes Produce Plus checks at participating farmers’ markets in D.C.
Hunger Relief: Food Banks, Food Rescue, and Food Pantries
Food Banks, Food Rescues, and Distribution Organizations
Capital Area Food Bank: Food donations arrive at the Capital Area Food Bank’s distribution center, then go out into the community via a network of more than 450 regional nonprofit partner organizations — and direct programs like after-school meals for kids. While about half of those nonprofit partners are currently closed due to the pandemic, those remaining open are distributing more food than ever. Financial donations are accepted online, and individuals can host a traditional or digital food drive. Shelf-stable food donations can be dropped off at locations in D.C. and Virginia. The Capital Area Food Bank is “relying heavily” on volunteers right now during the COVID-19 crisis. There are volunteer opportunities for individuals or groups to pack and sort food at the warehouse, along with other tasks.
Maryland Food Bank: The first food bank established on the East Coast, Maryland Food Bank is distributing “Grab & Go” meals for kids, supplying community partners with groceries, and creating “drive-thru” pantries in response to the pandemic. The nonprofit accepts online donations, and volunteers are needed at the food bank.
Nourish Now: This Rockville food bank distributes food donations from grocers, restaurants, bakeries, caterers, and more. Volunteer opportunities are available during the week, and online donations are accepted.
Manna: This food bank fights hunger in Montgomery County, distributing rescued foods to organizations throughout the area like soup kitchens, food pantries, and emergency shelters. Volunteer opportunities are available. Shelf-stable food donations are accepted, along with online donations.
AFAC: The Arlington Food Assistance Center offers free weekly groceries to neighbors in need. Donations are accepted online, and the Arlington nonprofit is in urgent need of canned goods like tuna, soup, and vegetables. Volunteers help with tasks like bagging, cooking, distribution, and driving.
Food for Others: Food for Others conducts food rescue operations and food drives to help neighbors experiencing food insecurity in Northern Virginia. Donations are accepted online, and volunteer shifts are open.
Soup Kitchens, Pantries, and Shelters
Thrive DC: Thrive DC provides emergency groceries and meals in addition to other services for homeless and vulnerable community members. Donations are accepted online, and there are volunteer opportunities Monday through Friday.
Central Union Mission: This 135-year-old Christian nonprofit operates multiple locations in the D.C. area, including an emergency shelter that offers food distribution among other services. Central Union Mission’s in-person volunteer events are currently suspended, but donations are accepted online.
Alive!: In Alexandria, faith communities band together as Alive! to provide support for those in need, including food distribution and home food deliveries. “Virtual food drives” for funds are requested instead of dry goods at this time.
Cornerstones: This food pantry in Reston is stocked with fresh food and non-perishable items, and Cornerstones also delivers food to senior clients and local low-income housing complexes. The organization accepts online donations, and volunteer opportunities are available.
St. Lucy Food Project: Catholic Charities will host no contact drive-thru food drives throughout the summer at parishes in Northern Virginia, collecting non-perishable food for its St. Lucy Food Project pantries.
Bethesda Cares: This community outreach program for the homeless offers weekday lunches, Saturday lunches, and Sunday dinners at several churches in Bethesda. Volunteers can help out on-site, and donations are accepted online.
Shepherd’s Table: The meals program at downtown Silver Spring’s Shepherd’s Table provides brunch and dinner every day. Volunteer shifts are available, and the organization can use in-kind donations (listing requests from coconut milk to paper napkins), with a fundraising page online, too.
Gaithersburg HELP: This food pantry provides nutritious groceries for Gaithersburg-area residents. Pantry volunteers work on tasks like organizing inventory and bagging food packages, while those interested can donate funds online. Shelf-stable food items like rice and canned tuna are also requested.
Community Organizations Providing Food Access
World Central Kitchen: D.C.-based chef José Andrés’s nonprofit World Central Kitchen provides emergency food relief worldwide, including in dozens of cities in response to the coronavirus pandemic. There’s a call for donations online, or volunteers can sign up for the WCK Volunteer Corps to serve in the community.
DC Central Kitchen: In addition to other hunger-fighting programs, this esteemed nonprofit provides meals cooked from scratch prepared by enrollees in DC Central Kitchen’s culinary job training and volunteers. Donations are requested to help support the organization, as it currently serves 11,000 breakfasts and lunches a week, delivers meals to local shelters, and bags up local produce. The volunteer program is currently suspended due to the pandemic.
Bread for the City: This D.C. nonprofit with centers in Southeast and Northwest serves neighbors through a variety of programs, including grocery delivery. Donations are accepted online, and volunteers are needed in the food pantry and more.
Martha’s Table: This 40-year-old nonprofit supports neighbors in D.C. through a variety of programs, including free healthy food markets and a mobile food service. Volunteers can sign up for shifts for grocery bagging, cleanup and more, or contribute grocery items, homemade trail mix, sandwiches, one-pot meals or muffins. Donate funds online to help Martha’s Table distribute 8,000 bags of healthy groceries and 6,750 pre-packaged meals each week.
Food for All DC: Homebound Washingtonians can sign up for home grocery delivery with Food for All DC, which is currently seeking volunteer drivers for deliveries. The organization accepts donations via Paypal.
Miriam’s Kitchen: Healthy breakfasts and dinners are served Monday through Friday at Miriam’s Kitchen in D.C., which is devoted to ending chronic homelessness. The nonprofit organization suspended much of its kitchen shift volunteer program due to the pandemic, although some opportunities are available and donations are accepted online.
Arcadia Mobile Market: The sustainable food and agriculture program continues to operate its “farm-stands-on-wheels” Mobile Markets to connect communities with affordable, healthful food. Donations are accepted online, and there’s an online sign-up to learn more about volunteering.
Common Good City Farm: Common Good City Farm near LeDroit Park is handing out free boxes of produce every Wednesday until October. The volunteer program is currently suspended, but the urban farm accepts donations online and maintains a wish list on Amazon.
Dreaming Out Loud: This nonprofit based in Ward 7 works to build a more equitable food system with several initiatives, including running farmers’ markets for low-income communities, operating a two-acre farm at Kelly Miller Middle School in Northeast, training food entrepreneurs, and creating jobs in the food system. A recently launched Black Farm CSA program includes at least one item grown by a Black farmer in every share. People can buy shares here, donate shares to community members here, and donate money to the nonprofit’s COVID-19 response fund here.
Meals for the City: Little Sesame, the popular local counter for hummus bowls and pita wraps, is working with Dreaming Out Loud and World Central Kitchen to supply meals for neighbors in need. Donate or buy a Little Sesame gift card (every $10 sponsors one meal) here.
Purple Patch: The Filipino restaurant in Mount Pleasant continues to make free grab-and-go meals for local kids in need during the pandemic (breakfast and lunch, fruit, juice and snacks) from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. Fund meals by donating to Venmo (@patrice-cleary) or through on-site cash donations.
Worker and Restaurant Relief
D.C. enforced a dine-in ban from mid-March through most of May, leading to a huge wave of layoffs for restaurant workers. Much of that group was already working without health insurance benefits. Undocumented workers who cook, serve, buss, and wash dishes have been especially vulnerable because they do not qualify for most unemployment benefits. These efforts focus primarily on getting food and supplies to restaurant workers who lost their jobs during the pandemic:
Hook Hall Helps: A relief center based in a huge Park View bar, Hook Hall continues to prepare and distribute meals for impacted hospitality workers. Click here to volunteer, or donate to the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington’s Worker’s Relief Fund to keep the effort running.
Lee Initiative: Chef Edward Lee, culinary director of Succotash and co-founder of the LEE Initiative, launched the Restaurant Workers Relief Program in response to the COVID-19 crisis. The national effort donated 140,000 meals and thousands of pounds of supplies to out-of-work restaurant employees in D.C. and eighteen other U.S. cities. A second wave of help is on the way: under a new restaurant reboot relief program, the initiative commits at least $1 million to buying food from sustainable farmers in 16 regions that will reach restaurants in those areas. Additional information can be found here.
Friends and Family Meal DC: Hospitality workers affected by the COVID-19 crisis can sign up to receive free groceries from this new nonprofit founded by two restaurant workers. All donations go directly towards groceries purchased from small businesses.
Power of 10: D.C. restaurateur Erik Bruner-Yang started this initiative to put restaurants back to work with a model that uses every $10,000 in donations to create 10 full-time restaurant jobs and produce 1,000 free meals for frontline workers or other community initiatives over the course of a week. Donate in increments of $10 to $10,000 here.
Ayuda: A COVID-19 emergency relief fund benefits low-income immigrants during the COVID-19 health crisis. A $75 donation helps one family cover a week’s worth of groceries.
Many Languages One Voice (MLOV): This nonprofit and advocates for D.C.’s immigrant community and has been organizing demonstrations to raise awareness for undocumented workers who are excluded from unemployment assistance. It also works with street vendors, who have been undertaking mutual aid among themselves. Donate here.
Good Food Markets: The community grocer teamed up with the Bainum Family Foundation, No Kid Hungry, and 4P Foods to distribute fresh bags of produce, meat, and dairy from local farms to hospitality workers in need every Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. (2006 Rhode Island Avenue NE). Donate to the ongoing effort here.
Core: The national nonprofit that financially supports food and beverage employees with children is currently helping those diagnosed with COVID-19. Apply here.
DC Virtual Tip Jar: Unemployed bartenders and servers invite their favorite customers to tip from afar. Impacted service industry workers at bars, restaurants, and clubs can fill out a survey and plug in their Venmo or PayPal account into a live spreadsheet that’s updated daily at noon.
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