How Bethenny Frankel Became the Unsung Hero of the Food World

The chef turned reality star turned life-saver doesn't do "red tape or complaining."


In the pilot episode of Real Housewives of New York, Bethenny Frankel turned on her stove. "I'm a natural-food chef," she said in voiceover, by way of introduction. "I want to be a household name, like a modern, healthy Martha Stewart."

It was just one of the things she was known for in 2008, like her fluffy dog Cookie, her desire to find love, and her signature "skinny-girl margarita." Since then, Frankel has taken on many professional titles; one of them, increasingly, is savior. With her BStrong initiative, she springs into action around disaster relief, contributing critical supplies and funding to Puerto Rico after Hurricanes Maria and Irma, California after the wildfires, Mexico City after an earthquake. Now, with the rest of the planet, she has turned her attention to COVID-19. She has raised over $15 million so far, using the money to coordinate the delivery of masks and hazmat suits, and to direct funding to hospitals, healthcare systems and police officers in New York City, New Orleans, San Francisco and more.

At a time when many celebrities seem brutally tone-deaf, logging into their Instagram accounts for live sessions from their mega-mansions, Frankel, 49, appears to be using her money and influence for good. In 2017, Frankel launched the BStrong initiative, which provides disaster supplies and coordinates their delivery via shelters and local organizations. In a heartbreaking 2018 episode of RHONY, Frankel, and co-star Dorinda Medley traveled to Puerto Rico, where they handed out $300 pre-loaded cards and bottles of water to weeping recipients.

Why has disaster relief become Frankel's raison d'être? "I am an intense business person. I dive into whatever I'm passionate about and don't come out until the mission is over...I am a 'get it done' executor and I don't do red tape or complaining," Frankel said in an interview last week. "I just figure it out. Disaster relief is for an intensely organized person who can handle the fastest rollercoaster on earth."

For their work on the global pandemic, Frankel and BStrong have teamed with a 501(c)(3) organization, Global Empowerment Mission, to raise funds and work directly with PPE manufacturers to drop supplies at hospitals, health clinics, health departments, police departments and healthcare companies. Occasionally, they give the money straight to these essential departments.

"With this donation, we continue to make sure our staff are able to suit up for this fight," said Paul J. Connor, the chief administrative officer at Stony Brook Eastern Long Island Hospital. The hospital received 4,000 masks and 500 biohazard suits from BStrong and Global Empowerment Mission. "We are grateful that Bethenny Frankel and her BStong initiative will protect our healthcare heroes."

While her volunteer work may seem herculean, Frankel's current daily routine during coronavirus might not be all that different from the one happening in your house. "We wake up and snuggle with the dogs, watch TV, start learning and reading. Then we may get into an art project," she says of life with her 9-year-old daughter, Bryn. "I am the day-to-day operations—organizing my daughter's school, cooking, dog groomer, running my business, and relief effort."

She is also diving back into that original professional passion. "I've been cooking all three meals and loving it," she says. "I am always creative with my freezer and pantry, but it's very creative to plan the meals out. I've been to the market twice in a month, so I am foraging daily."

One item on her regular to-do list that you might not be able to relate to, though? Rallying celebrities like Mindy Kaling, Amy Schumer, Ellen Degeneres, Katie Couric and many more to contribute. A few days ago, Matthew McConaughey and his wife Camilla Alves McConaughey stepped up, donating enough money to cover 80,000 masks for essential workers in Austin, Texas.

"We worked closely together during the Puerto Rico crisis. As entrepreneurs, I was able to see first-hand her ability to execute against all odds, and I was deeply impressed," says Grant Verstandig, the founder of Rally Health. He and the Verstandig Family Foundation have donated $1.3 million to BStrong to assist with coronavirus issues. "As I ramped up my Covid relief efforts at my foundation, I knew she was someone who could make a difference."

When asked why more celebrities and privileged people are not stepping up, Frankel doesn't take the bait to bash them further. "I have no idea what other people are doing," she says. "I know this takes a very organized, strategic person who is an executor. This is a non-partisan, 'don't complain, don't explain' effort."

Still, Frankel's not superhuman, and she feels the same anxieties as anyone about the pandemic and its aftermath. "It's normal for people to feel trauma, PTSD, anxiety and fear. This is an unprecedented crisis, so we should have unprecedented feelings," she said. Structure helps, she added: "Even taking a hot bath and putting clean clothes on resets the day."

And her BStrong work brings a kind of comfort, too. "It's a project. It's productive," Frankel says. She recently posted on Instagram, wearing a big cozy sweater and flannel pants. "If there is one thing Coronavirus has reminded us of is what is real and what is important," she wrote, "Because everything else is just filler."

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