This virtual tip jar helps Kitchener food industry workers during the coronavirus

For Michelle Cudia, a bartender at Tria Taproom, the news of the restaurant’s closure across town – as for many – came quickly and suddenly.

Michelle Cudia

Cudia was supposed to show up for work on Monday evening; Instead, she received emails from Trias owner and managing director that she and her employees were on leave immediately.

With that, Cudia was out of work this week among the thousands of workers in the Kitchener food industry. She applied for unemployment that night, is still on the company’s health plan, and has assurances from the owners of Tria that they will reinstate their employees as soon as possible if possible. But as of now, Cudia isn’t sure how to pay for her $ 200 monthly health insurance premium, rent, or pets.

According to a report by the Economy League late last year, around 79,000 people work in the food industry in Kitchener, 12 percent of all jobs. More than half of these jobs are in restaurants, where the average annual wage (as of 2016) was $ 21,000. In other words, these are not people with ample savings.

These are also some of the most economically vulnerable people among us: at the national level, restaurants are the number one employer for single women, citizens returning from custody and first-time workers, as well as a great employer for immigrants. And many of them make their living mostly from tips paid to them by those of us who feed them, make drinks for, and serve in urban restaurants.

Do somethingFor this reason, Cudia launched the Kitchener Virtual Tip Jar on Wednesday evening to enable direct donations to employees and bartenders. Here’s how it works: Restaurant staff can fill out this Google form with their names. the restaurant they work in; and leave a PayPal or Venmo address.

Long-term customers (or others) can call up the run list in this Google spreadsheet, which is updated daily at 12:00 noon, and then send a “tip” to those listed on their devices. The table that you can use to search for the name of the person or the restaurant works on an honor system.

At the request of some donors who wanted to get involved in the common cause, Cudia turned her own Venmo into a collection for the Virtual Tip Jar, which she will distribute evenly among the participants. Over 500 workers have signed up so far, and she has roughly $ 400 in the collective account (not enough to spend yet).

“I know that tip jar won’t pay my rent,” says Cudia. “But it gives me something to think about while I process it all. I like to help as best I can. “

Cudia says she got the idea from a similar program in DC that was sent to her by one of her contestants in Speed ​​Rack, an all-women bartending competition that raises money for breast cancer research. In Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University’s Center for Ethics and Politics also released a virtual tip jar this week. It already has more than 2,600 people.

cheat sheetAnother project, the Kitchener Restaurant Server Relief Fund, was launched this week to help food workers. A Facebook group founded by Cheryl Molle aims to raise at least $ 21,000 in donations, of which they will send $ 400 a week to at least 13 workers while they are unemployed. After a lot of support, the group raised their fundraising goal to $ 10,000. At the time of this writing, they had raised more than $ 19,000. (A list of restaurants that offer takeout or delivery can also be found on Takeout COVID, an app that currently has over 600 restaurants listed.)

These are direct ways to help those in the dining world who are struggling. In San Francisco, Jackie Patterson Brenner – an award-winning mixologist and liquor marketer who has worked in restaurants in the Bay Area for 15 years – has another.

She started a Facebook group called Server to Sitter to help out her two main groups of friends: food service workers who have no income and mothers of young children who have to work. In the group, which now has 100 members, people can post “ISO: Childcare” and “ISO: Work”.

“Some people don’t have the luxury or privilege to quit work,” says Brenner. Custom haloThis includes healthcare workers and others who are considered material. “That way, hopefully, they can connect with a single person to help with childcare, rather than bringing multiple people into their homes.”

Those two needs – childcare and server jobs – are there too here in Kitchener. Is it another idea that we should steal?

It’s early days, and the pain is likely to be profound and long-lasting for many Kitchener restaurants, which are mostly small, small-margin businesses.

“People are finding that we are in crisis mode,” said Ben Fileccia of the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Hospitality Association earlier this week, shortly after the mayor ordered all restaurants to be closed for two weeks. “People don’t know how you’re going to pay your rent when you’re an employee. As an employer, you may not know how to open up again. “

An Italian bakery in South Kitchener puts a sign on the door saying the food is take away only. Italian bakery Varallo Brothers Bakery in South Kitchener | Photo courtesy of Katherine Rapin

Nevertheless, even in the last few days, many restaurateurs have been doing what their business often requires: scrambling to make it work. Some have launched their own virtual tip glasses, including Rally Coffee and La Colombe. The Kitchener Distilling Company announced they are touch-free picking up their bottles and driving through to keep some of the tasting room staff going.

Some have or plan to offer take-away and meal-delivery meals, which could benefit their bottom line – and will keep some employees busy for the next several weeks. (Check out the Dining at a Distance Guide and List from Kitchener Mag.) For example, baology’s Judy Ni is launching a bottom meal delivery program on Friday in partnership with other independent female-owned food companies including El Merkury and Triple Brewing.

Larger restaurant groups like Tria were able to keep their employees up to date on health plans and announced on Friday that the proceeds or similarf All gift cards purchased by April 15 will be used to pay employee health insurance premiums. And the restaurant group CookNSolo (Zahav, Federal Donuts) has pledged to give their hourly staff money from gift cards they bought during these weeks. You have already raised $ 25,000. When they reach $ 40,000 by Friday, they promise to raise the donations.

You can also buy gift cards online at restaurants that you visit frequently later to keep them afloat for a short period of time.

Fileccia notes that hopefully there will be more ideas for restaurants, owners and workers in the next few days.

Continue readingIf so, it will be earned. After all, this is an industry that not only employs tens of thousands of people and contributes about 4 percent of wages tax to the city of Kitchener. There are and are those in need, from gift cards to every auction imaginable, to the Great Chefs event, which raises around $ 1 million annually for Alex’s Lemonade Stand and Feastival, which has run into millions of US dollars over the past decade Raised dollars for the Fringe Festival.

“Restaurants are always those guys who give something back,” notes Fileccia. “Now we have to take care of ourselves – and maybe get the support of everyone we have always helped.”

That seems fair doesn’t it?

Header photo courtesy of Sam Dan Truong / Unsplash

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