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With a Little Help From Facebook Employees, a 'No Pay Cafe' in Sonoma Has Been Feeding Thousands of Fire Victims

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No Pay Cafe founder, Sheana Davis (third from the right), stands with cafe volunteers on October 22.

 

On October 9, as fire tore through the North Bay, cheesemaker and chef Sheana Davis found herself with both a sudden surplus of prepared food from cancelled catering gigs and an urgent need to distribute it. Davis organized a small group of volunteers and worked out of the Sonoma Valley Inn (and later the Sonoma Springs Community Hall) to feed first responders and evacuees, taking up the name No Pay Cafe/Cafe Gratis. But by week’s end, it was clear that even with contributions from local restaurateurs and farmers, the cafe couldn’t keep up with the constant stream of hungry volunteers and victims.

“It was obvious that the only way to satisfy such significant demand required more resources,” says cafe volunteer Kathy Chan, a former Facebook employee. It took about five emails with the company’s global executive chef Tony Castellucci and his culinary team, Chan says, to work out delivery logistics and get the costs approved with Facebook higher-ups. “By noon on Friday, Facebook had arranged emergency ingredient deliveries to start cooking 5,000 meals a day,” says volunteer and freelance developer Steve Guilliams. “There was a week or two that we had multiple deliveries of 10,000 to 18,000 meals from Facebook. It was a whirlwind.”

As the smoke cleared and demand decreased, the cafe has handed off meal service to a number of nonprofits and delivery to the Kiwanis Club. Under the new name Virtual No Pay Cafe, volunteers relay weekly requests—totalling 1,000 meals a day—from partner nonprofits to Facebook chefs, and then put the word out on the No Pay Cafe Facebook page. Volunteer Melanie Wong, a retired pharmaceutical executive who also works in food policy advocacy, describes the new format as a kind of popup. “They put up No Pay Cafe signs in their different feeding halls,” Wong says. “We do some coordination to make sure that they’ve got days covered so that people can get a meal when they need it but we no longer have our own physical cafe.”

Facebook, along with a handful of other Silicon Valley companies, has—quietly—donated $1 million toward relief efforts, as well as the volunteer services of senior leaders. “They actually do have fairly important people driving the trucks but they don’t want to be in photos,” Guilliams says.

Guilliams says Facebook and the No Pay Cafe will continue their work as long as it’s needed. “We’re just responding a week at a time,” he says. While the company has refrained from public comment on their efforts—we reached out to Facebook on this story, but received no response—confirmation did appear in the form of a “like” from Zuck himself on Chan’s Facebook recounting of the events.

 

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