Delivery drivers are risking their lives to make ends meet during COVID-19 shutdown

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Postmates logo painted on a door along Abbot Kinney Blvd, Venice. Photo by Amy Ta.

Many restaurants in LA are still open for takeout during the COVID-19 pandemic. But if you want to eat it, you’ll have to venture out of isolation, or have it brought to you. That means delivery services like UberEats, Grubhub and Postmates are busier than ever. The drivers that power those services are out risking their lives to make a buck.

Mac Mills started driving for Postmates to make ends meet. Before the pandemic, he was working as a film producer and assistant, but then sets shut down. 

He’s one of the many Americans who lost work because of the virus. This month, 3.3 million people filed for unemployment. “I don’t think my story is that unique,” he says.

“I do really feel like I have to scrounge every penny I can because of how uncertain things are right now,” he says. “I'm going to ask my landlord for some help on the rent, but there's obviously no guarantee there. And I have food, but it seems like there's no end in sight to this pandemic.”

Mills says delivering for Postmates isn’t “the most glamorous thing to be doing,” but he would rather have a job. 

Earlier this month, Mills was driving under a promotion that guaranteed drivers $500 for 100 deliveries over the course of five days. If he didn’t complete it, his compensation would be based on how far he drove and how long he waited to pick up his deliveries, plus $2 as the base order for each delivery. 

He described getting nervous when picking up food at one restaurant: “I've noticed a lot of places that have like a salsa bar or sauces, they're pre-packaging them, where normally you would just do it yourself. This was the case that … I had to do it myself. And the customer asked for two cups of salsa. So I was a little freaked out. I'm sure they're cleaning their utensils. And I tried to be careful. But I spilled a little salsa on my hands.”

“I’m just constantly worried that this is gonna be the thing that I do that gets myself or somebody else sick. So it feels almost impossible to know exactly the right way to do everything. But I'm just trying to gather as much information as I can, and be as precautious as I can, and do my best,” he said. 

Mills completed his goal of 100 deliveries in five days. 

“It's been motivating. It's been nice to set a goal and have some sort of purpose in this crazy time. I think I'd be going nuts if I were just sitting at home waiting for life to come back to normal. … It's risky out here,” he said. “But it feels like I have some sort of purpose. It feels like I'm doing it to not just take care of me, but I'm getting food to people who are doing the right thing by staying home.”