Chef creating meals for those in need during the pandemic

Frontline Foods rapidly scales with Slack to feed Covid-19 heroes

“We doubled down on Slack as the primary means of communication from the beginning. It had everything an organization scaling this quickly needed: real-time communication, transparency, a shared knowledge base and self-organization around channels.”

Frank Barbieri Original Organizer, Frontline Foods

Editor’s note: In August 2020, Frontline Foods joined World Central Kitchen, a non-profit that provides food to communities during times of crisis.

When Frontline Foods launched nationally in March, it had 35 volunteers across 10 major U.S. cities. Its goal: to use donations from local communities to buy meals from local restaurants coping with shelter-in-place measures, and provide those meals to healthcare workers on the frontlines of the pandemic.

Today, in partnership with World Central Kitchen—a 501(c) charitable organization led by chef José Andrés—Frontline Foods has:

  • Supported more than 1,180 restaurants
  • Delivered 480,000 meals across the country
  • Served 980 frontline teams
  • Raised $9.1 million and contributed those funds to local restaurants

With dozens of Frontline Foods chapters across the U.S., from Seattle to Kansas City to the Twin Cities, Frontline Foods has relied on Slack, the leading channel-based messaging platform, every step of the way.

“We doubled down on Slack as the primary means of communication from the beginning. It had everything an organization scaling this quickly needed: real-time communication, transparency, a shared knowledge base and self-organization around channels.”

Frank BarbieriOne of the original organizers of Frontline Foods

Leveraging Slack to quickly onboard and scale operations

As a completely remote organization, the majority of Frontline Foods’ hundreds of volunteers have never met in person. Instead, Frontline Foods relies on Slack channels—digital spaces for people to share messages and files—to onboard new volunteers, get organized and take action.

Jamie Rosenfield, Frontline Foods’ head of operations organizer, says Slack had an “immediate effect” when it came to growing the operation quickly. As a former Slack employee working in program management, Rosenfield’s Slack experience informed a system of best practices to help the nonprofit scale across the country.

“Slack is the central place where this whole operation is running. Beyond sharing docs, it truly connects us in all ways and brings the community together. It empowers every volunteer to inspire cities from coast to coast.”

Jamie RosenfieldHead of operations organizer, Frontline Foods

First, new volunteers are added to the Frontline Foods Slack workspace, where team members can communicate and work together. A Slack bot pings newcomers who join each day with a set of channel guidelines, including how to introduce themselves in #intros, find and join their respective team’s channel, and how to contact their team lead via their Slack display name.

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New volunteers can also get the lay of the land by joining channels such as:

  • #announcements for essential information
  • #chapter-teams to share and leverage learnings
  • #help for questions
  • #plz-tools to request access to tools like Airtable

A link to a more in-depth guide includes how to use certain channels, add emojis, reply to threads, set reminders, save messages and use keyboard shortcuts. This simple onboarding is complemented by a culture that leads by example.

“Slack has really been the perfect tool for helping us scale so quickly,” says Frank Barbieri, one of the original organizers of Frontline Foods. “Although many volunteers may not be tech-savvy, people generally understood how to use Slack right away.”

Take Vermont nurse and chapter leader Sher Tsai. A first-time Slack user, Tsai was able to get up to speed on how to use Slack in just one day.

“I’m completely converted to Slack,” Tsai says. “It’s really intuitive and a great way to streamline information. You don’t lose things to email and you can peruse at your own rate.”

While Tsai worked 50 hours a week to get Vermont’s chapter off the ground, she now spends just 25 hours a week keeping her team of a dozen volunteers operating smoothly.

“It was a big undertaking, but once you get the processes down in Slack the chapter runs itself,” Tsai says.

“I don’t think Frontline Foods would have been remotely as successful without Slack. It’s been essential to help us stay connected, feel like a team and share resources.”

Sher TsaiVermont nurse and chapter leader, Frontline Foods

Connecting and empowering chapters across the country

Because Frontline Foods is entirely volunteer-led, there is no real structured hierarchy.

“Here, you just need the will to do something, and the team to get it done,” Barbieri says. “Slack is so good at announcing that will, and empowering teams to self-organize from there.”

In the organization’s #plz- channels, such as #plz-creative, #plz-social-media, #plz-website-requests, anyone can request help from specialists.

“Slack channels became a way of apportioning work between those who need it and those who can fulfill it,” says Barbieri.

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As a chapter lead herself, Tsai recognizes the value of Slack for crowdsourcing. “When I present a question on Slack, anyone can chime in with guidance,” Tsai says.

This spirit of helping and lifting each other up is the foundation of Frontline Foods. “There’s this opportunity to show up and immediately amplify your work,” Rosenfield says. “Slack is where everybody has a voice.”

As a member of all individual chapter channels, Barbieri says he can, “See what everyone’s up to, get ideas, support them and celebrate victories. Slack gives us national real-time transparency.”

Rosenfield emphasizes the value Slack brings on both an operational and cultural level. “Slack channels help us connect people without managing them,” Rosenfield says. “We are passionate about letting these teams operate how they want to operate.”

Building communities and recognizing impactful efforts

At the heart of Frontline Foods is the #stories-from-the-field channel, a “source of constant inspiration,” according to Barbieri. Here, volunteers post impactful pictures, notes and media mentions. Anyone can hop in to share, for example, that a restaurateur was able to hire back a dishwasher because of Frontline Foods.

“You just tear up with joy seeing how receptive people are,” Barbieri says. “It’s a remarkable wellspring of inspiration.”

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While Frontline Foods brings relief to essential workers and boosts local economies across the nation, Slack helps provide a critical sense of community to those driving its success. Even though individuals and teams have never met, Barbieri says expressions of self and personality come through in Slack.

“Slack helps give everyone a sense of the breadth and depth of this team, from war veterans in Las Vegas to retired Microsoft executives in Seattle to nurses in Vermont,” says Barbieri. “It’s been a wild ride.”