Sheryl Sandberg is the COO of Facebook, a prominent commentator, and chair of the Sheryl Sandberg & Dave Goldberg Family Foundation. But like everyone else, she needed to make a grocery store run at the outset of the coronavirus outbreak to stock up on essentials for her family. While shopping, she came to a realization—this was the hour to offer her money and voice to her local food bank: Second Harvest of Silicon Valley. Philanthropy spoke with Sandberg recently about the coronavirus outbreak in her region, food insecurity, and how she is lending her personal support.
Interviewer: When did you decide to raise money for Second Harvest?
Sandberg: My fiancé Tom and I were at the grocery stocking up because the stores were going to start closing, and we were to be quarantining. I had volunteered for the food bank for a really long time as a donor and fundraiser, and I realized that not everyone can do what I was doing—stocking up on food.
The next day, Bay Area schools shut. Twenty-two million children in this country rely on subsidized school lunches. I called Leslie, the CEO of Second Harvest, my local food bank, and we set up the COVID-19 emergency fund to feed families that afternoon.
I started fundraising immediately. We raised a lot of money, more than we ever have in the first 48 hours. I called our big donors and said, “This is an emergency,” and every single person I called said, “Yes, I’m going to write a bigger check than I’ve ever written before and I’m so glad that we’re doing this.” I also started a personal Facebook fundraiser which was quickly more than double what I’ve ever raised on Facebook before. This is not just a health crisis, but also a humanitarian, basic-needs crisis.
Think about it as a child used to getting 10 of 21 meals at school. That goes away when school is closed. We have a lot to do here.
Philanthropy: Do you know how Second Harvest is planning to distribute the food?
Sandberg: It’s getting harder because as the need goes up the dexterity needed to meet those needs goes up too. We rely on a lot of volunteers at Second Harvest, but the volunteers aren’t showing up nearly in the same numbers. A lot of volunteers can’t come. Usually my kids and I go to a local church where we hand out food. But that model has lots of people in one small place, so it’s not happening any more. Right now Second Harvest is preparing grab-and-go meals, delivering them to people’s homes, and trying to find new and innovative ways—and less expensive ways—to meet needs.
Philanthropy: How much have you raised so far?
Sandberg: Over $7 million. Six million came in very quickly from a small group of families, then another million dollars from a lot of people.
Philanthropy: How else can people help?
Sandberg: At Facebook, we just announced $100 million in grants for small businesses. People can’t make payroll. My sister called and suggested people buy gift cards from local businesses. The business gets the money now even though it’s shut. That’s a practical thing people can do.
I’ve been thinking about basic needs. Unemployment exacerbates domestic violence, exacerbates depression, exacerbates anxiety. These times are going to test everyone and all of us. People need more help in a crisis.