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Hungry to help healthcare workers

A conversation between two Queen's alumni inspires Grocery Hero, an online platform that is helping to feed healthcare workers across Canada.

Matthew Lombardi
Matthew Lombardi (Artsci’10) worked with a team to develop Grocery Hero, volunteer online food-delivery program.

What started out as a conversation between two Queen’s alumni is turning into a volunteer food-delivery program that is helping frontline healthcare workers across the country.

Matthew Lombardi (Artsci’10), a management consultant in Toronto, learned from his friend and emergency room doctor Jon Gravel (Artsci’09), that it has been difficult for many health-care workers to get groceries during the COVID-19 pandemic. They are working long hours, food delivery services are swamped, and many healthcare professionals are avoiding going inside grocery stores because they don’t want to risk exposing the public to the virus.

The discussion sparked an idea, so Lombardi got together with four friends and Grocery Hero was born. The online platform matches volunteers who will go to the store and pick up groceries for overworked healthcare workers in their neighbourhood. The medical workers pay for the food, and the volunteers provide their time.

Successful launch

Grocery Hero, which launched at the end of March, saw 500 people sign up on the first day. Grocery Hero was originally intended to only serve the Toronto area, but Lombardi and his co-founders immediately received email requests from people across Canada. Within 24 hours, the site was retooled to go national. After only two weeks, Grocery Hero has more than 3,800 volunteers across nine provinces. It has matched 850 health-care professionals with nearby volunteer shoppers, with more than 70 per cent of the matches between people who live less than one kilometre apart.

Grocery Hero was built by a team of non-engineers using free online tools and only cost a total of $50.

Lombardi says the reaction has been incredible. He’s heard from medical workers who are grateful they can focus on fighting COVID-19 and from volunteers who are happy to have a way to help.

“We stumbled upon an incredibly simple solution,” says Lombardi. “We are solving a problem for medical workers, and simultaneously providing people a meaningful way to help. It has really resonated with people. Why not pick up some extra groceries for your neighbour, who might be a nurse or a paramedic, the next time you are out shopping?”

Visit the Grocery Hero website to learn more.

This article was first published on the Queen's Alumni website.