Donations surge to help 'terrified' restaurant workers out of a job amid coronavirus pandemic

·5 min read
NEW YORK, NEW YORK  - MARCH 16:  A notice posted in the window of Hourglass Tavern on Manhattan's Restaurant Row notes that the kitchen is closed as coronavirus cases and fears continue to spread on March 16, 2020 in New York City. The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic on March 11. (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MARCH 16: A notice posted in the window of Hourglass Tavern on Manhattan's Restaurant Row notes that the kitchen is closed as coronavirus cases and fears continue to spread on March 16, 2020 in New York City. The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic on March 11. (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)

Donations have spiked dramatically for organizations that assist restaurant workers who are out of a job due to mass shutdowns of bars and restaurants across the nation because of the coronavirus pandemic. Nonprofits around the country are reporting surges in online donations from foundations, corporations and individual contributors to help people in need.

“We're so delighted, we could not express [enough] gratitude to foundations and individual donors,” said Anthony Advincula, Public Affairs officer and National Policy Coordinator for the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC) fund, a nonprofit that has created an emergency relief fund to provide money to documented and undocumented restaurant workers who have lost their jobs during the pandemic.

The organization has seen a surge in donations: $115,000 since last week.

ROC is offering $100 to $300 to workers with demonstrated need in order to help with urgent bills like rent and food. It will prioritize undocumented workers, those ineligible for unemployment, those with children, single mothers and caretakers for the elderly.

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This comes on the heels of the Labor Department’s announcement on Thursday that a record 3.28 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits in the last week. John deBary, co-founder and board president of the Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation (RWCF) says the need for donations is critical.

In the last week, his organization has received about 10,000 individual emails from restaurant workers seeking assistance.

“If I had to paraphrase the vast majority of the emails we’ve received it would be something like: ‘Please help. I don’t know what to do,’” said deBary. “Short, desperate messages from people who are terrified and looking anywhere for a way to support themselves and their families.”

In the last week, RWCF has raised $365,000 dollars, an incredible spike for the organization. For comparison, RWCF raised $40,000 for the entire year of 2019. deBary says they’re on target to raise at least a million dollars more. The RWCF uses donated money to help restaurant workers and provides zero-interest loans to restaurants.

In partnership with the Southern Smoke Foundation, deBary says RWCF has distributed about $25,000 a day to restaurant workers, and it plans to increase funding daily in the weeks to come.

The United States Bartenders Guild (USBG) has also created an emergency assistance program, to help bartenders out of work due to restaurant closings. Kim Haasarud, USBG Foundation vice president tells Yahoo Lifestyle the organization has received an unprecedented number of applications for assistance, in the tens of thousands. “We’ve scaled up our technology, processes and volunteer workforce for application processing,” she said. “The applications will be prioritized on need. Grants resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak will be in the $150 - $500 range.”

Haasarud says the response to donating money for relief has been enormous. So far, USBG has received $3.5 million in donations but says it’s a fraction of what they need to assist the almost 700,000 bartenders in the U.S.

“If we were to give $150 to every bartender as an emergency ‘shift pay’... that would be $100 million dollars. We’ve raised 3% of that number,” she said.

“If you don't have a job, then it's a very scary situation. And so the need is huge,” said deBary.

If you are looking for places to donate, here are a few examples:

Dining Bonds Initiative: Similar to government-issued war bonds, the Dining Bond Initiative aims to bring immediate cash to restaurants in exchange for future restaurant purchases. Organizer Helen Patrikis says “restaurant workers may be able to keep a worker or two on staff.” So far, the organizers have been surprised by the overall response, pointing to a restaurant group in Atlanta that sold $20,000 worth of dining bonds. Organizer Steven Hall says “the idea is to get money into the hands of restaurants now, when they need it the most.” There are 300 restaurants participating across the U.S. and more around the world.

Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) Emergency Relief Fund: helping documented and undocumented restaurant workers in need who have lost their jobs during the pandemic. The organization is also petitioning large corporations that employ thousands of workers to provide paid sick days during coronavirus. Read the petitions here.

United States Bartenders Guild: The guild is helping the almost 700,000 bartenders nation-wide affected by the virus through an emergency assistance program. Jameson Whiskey has pledged $500,000 alone.

Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation: Donated money goes to restaurant workers in need during the pandemic, to nonprofit organizations helping workers and to zero-interest loans to help restaurants get back up and running. The organization says that 2.45 million restaurant workers live in poverty.

For the latest news on the evolving coronavirus outbreak, follow along here. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC and WHO’s resource guides.

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