Idea

#bigthanks is about turning gratitude into productive action.

We want to help the helpers, those first responders, doctors, and nurses on the front lines. At the same time, we want to pass along some much-needed revenue to struggling restaurants and food service workers.

So we thought, can we raise donations and cater to the helpers? The answer is yes, and done right, they really appreciate it.

My friend Michelle Rudd had the brilliant inspiration for this project, connecting the need to sustain local restaurants with the desire to say thank you. And she led the first several deliveries, including:

  • identifying recipients
  • contacting restaurants
  • collecting funds
  • arranging delivery logistics

We learned a lot in the process, and want to share those learnings here for others.

Considerations

As with all #bigthanks actions, we urge you: first, do no harm.

Contact the inbound recipient organizations via their non-emergency lines or emails to ensure that you are not disrupting their emergency response.

Email is a good way to do so, since it’s non-interruptive. Start there; look for the community outreach contact for your local first responder organization. You can try their websites, or Google “<organization> community outreach email”, or also try LinkedIn.

I’ll share a template of Michelle’s email to community outreach staff members below.

Outreach Template

Personal contacts greatly help. A lifelong Seattleite, Michelle has strong community connections. For instance, she served as chair of Seafair for two years, she works in commercial and individual finance, she’s volunteered often with many organizations. She’s also married to a first responder, she has connections everywhere in Seattle.

I wanted to share her initial contact email here:

My friends and I are brainstorming about how to support our beloved restaurants and the health care workers and first responders who deserve our thanks. We thought of you and the team at <organization>.

#bigthanks was born and today, we will deliver 250+ meals from <restaurant> to hospital workers and first responders around the Puget Sound, paid for by our generous and grateful community. 

#bigthanks encourages individuals to put gratitude in motion to support our business community.

Starting on St Patrick’s Day to give #bigthanks to support those who “must” go to work, and hopefully serving as a model for others communities across our nation to take action. We will be sharing these learnings.

If you have non-emergency staff who handle social media, we would very much appreciate tagging the <large donating individuals> and <restaurant>, as well as the following hashtags:

#bigthanks
#bigthanksorg
#gratitudemeals
#familyservingfamily
#wegotthisSeattle
#operationleprachaun

Thank you so much for all you are doing, and please let me know if I can be of further help.

Take care,
<your name>

PS: visit https://bigthanks.org for more info on what we’re up to.

Michelle’s initial email to contacts

Tips

Recognize that they are extremely busy, and back out immediately if they say they’re too overwhelmed to consider this idea.

Banquet/family-style meals do not generally work well in many healthcare scenarios due to COVID concerns; consider boxed lunches or meals. But banquet-style meals often do work in the case of fire stations.

Greg, of Eastside Fire and Rescue, helping us deliver with his truck to Seattle Station 10

Raise the money from friends and family. For this first run, we collected it via Venmo and called the restaurants ourselves.

First responders need protein, generally not cakes and desserts.

It is far better to coordinate these with a SINGLE delivery than a bunch of one-off orders from, say, UberEats or Caviar. At Evergreen, two members of the community leadership staff came out to greet us, with a cart.

We were not allowed to go into the medical center, for entirely appropriate protocol reasons:

Kae and Megan at Evergreen Hospital accepting the meals. They went straight up to staff at the ICU dealing with COVID patients. They were SO appreciative of the community support. Video to follow at a later time.

We learned that many first responders don’t want to be thought of as “heroes,” but we still may think they are. Many feel they’re doing their jobs, the one that they knowingly signed up for, and they’re grateful to be able to help.

Head chef Ronnie and Shannon
Shawn O’Donnell, second-generation restauranteur

Current stats as of March 18, 2020:

  • 200+ healthcare workers
  • 150+ first responders
  • 50+ members of the El Centra de la Raza community on Beacon Hill

Thus far, $4,000 in donations raised.

#bigthanks to Michelle Rudd who led all of this, through smart planning, her many contacts, and tremendous personal drive and energy. Thanks also to everyone who supported these first events: Dave, Kristy, Molly, Kyle, Gregg, Steve, Ainsley, Jack, Kisa, Susan, Tracy, Ed, Joel the firefighter and first responder teams, participating restaurants and staff, and more.

Next Steps

We’re doing more of these, and we’re also trying to systematize it so individual donors can buy meals for first responders and those who help our community.

We’d love to let you know when these efforts are ready, so join the email list below.

Join the #bigthanks club

Membership is free. We won’t sell your contact details. You can leave our list at any time.

Author

I've lived in Seattle since 1991, and held jobs at Microsoft, Expedia and my own few startups. I've taught a class on innovation at the UW Foster School of Business. I love Seattle and the greater Puget Sound region. I've got a wife, three kids and a dog, who, other than me, is by far the most difficult member of the household.

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