Mutual help organizations face the problem of constant to assist native employees | Information | Pittsburgh

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CP Photo: Kaycee Orwig

Kacy Mcgill, Co-Project Leader, Pittsburgh Restaurant Workers Aid

More than a year after Governor Tom Wolf first closed restaurants and bars in Allegheny County in March 2020, many of the businesses that survived the pandemic are starting to open to dine-in service. But while people enjoy the opportunity to go out again, workers are still struggling, and the grassroots mutual aid organizations that originally supported them have had to adjust to continue to provide aid.

Kacy McGill and Taylor Stessney jointly founded and run Pittsburgh Restaurant Workers Aid, which launched the Greater PGH Restaurant Workers Emergency Fund on March 13, 2020, one week after the first COVID case was discovered in Pennsylvania. Now the group is seeking its own 501 (c) (3) charitable status and is working with other organizations to continue to support local workers. Challenges remain, however, and some local aid agencies did not move forward in the first few weeks and months of the pandemic.

“Organizing is very difficult, labor intensive – it’s a lot of emotional work … There is a tendency to really focus on helping one another and helping others and then forgetting to support yourself,” says McGill. “And that’s really hard to balance.”

The Greater PGH Restaurant Workers Emergency Fund set an initial target of $ 20,000 for GoFundMe, but within three days the fund received approximately 500 aid requests. Within 10 days of its inception, organizers dropped aid requests and set a new target of $ 60,000 for them to meet the requests they received, which they announced in an October 26, 2020 update on GoFundMe.

The fund spread through word of mouth among restaurant workers, and McGill says, “When we first started there was a certain amount of trust in GoFundMe. It was worker to worker and there were many people in our specific networks donating. ”

Pittsburgh Restaurant Workers Aid organizers have also created The Greater PGH Restaurant Workers Mutual Aid Facebook group, where people can discuss issues in the industry and share resources. However, as the pandemic stretched into the summer and fall, organizers tried to keep up with changing needs.

“We wanted to make sure people could have these conversations and these dialogues … so we could work together to potentially change some of the impacts like the low wages, limited health care, childcare that have always been part of ours Industry, ”says McGill. They hope that these discussions will bring about improvements that will make future disruptions and crises more bearable.

While the Emergency Fund originally planned to distribute money through platforms like PayPal, Venmo, and Cash App, they chose to send grants of $ 150 and $ 250 to workers via direct deposit, check, or VISA gift card to help keep the To improve accessibility for those who don’t use these apps, have a social security number, or want to disclose certain information. Many used the funds to cover expenses such as rent, bills, meals and childcare. The Workers Aid also began working with established organizations such as New Sun Rising, a local non-profit organization focused on community development that acts as a tax sponsor for Pittsburgh Restaurant Workers Aid.

“It was really hard to rely on workers for support in the summer when the entire industry was so devastated,” says McGill. “So we really had to talk to foundations and people outside the community so that we could make this a long-term initiative.”

The pandemic also lasted longer than most people expected, and while attention and focus has been on workers who were in financial difficulties due to forced closings at the start of the pandemic, attention has waned over time. Initially, organizations like the Pittsburgh Foundation, the Richard King Mellon Foundation, the Hillman Family Foundation, and the Heinz Endowments donated millions of dollars to relief supplies for those in need, and the Pittsburgh Foundation donated $ 15,000 to the Greater PGH Restaurant Workers Emergency Fund.

Individuals donated to GoFundMe pages and other calls for mutual help online. But as workers moved out of cultural awareness, it became more difficult for mutual aid groups to continue to support local workers.

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Pittsburgh Restaurant Workers Aid Volunteer, David Bigbee, puts together care packages for restaurant workers.  - CP PHOTO: KAYCEE ORWIG

CP Photo: Kaycee Orwig

Pittsburgh Restaurant Workers Aid Volunteer, David Bigbee, puts together care packages for restaurant workers.

“I think another reason some of the organizations have been moved or discontinued in any way is that there isn’t much outside support overall. It’s really hard even now, ”says McGill, noting that getting volunteers is also difficult.

The problem doesn’t just affect the bar and restaurant industry. Groups like the PGH Artists Emergency Fund, which supported local artists who lost their primary income due to COVID, received their last donation 10 months ago, and the Pittsburgh COVID-19 LGBTQIA Emergency Relief Fund, organized by Sisters PGH, is no longer open Donate. Both were able to successfully distribute aid, and Sisters PGH continue to support trans- and non-binary colored people in southwest Pennsylvania through a variety of programs and services.

Pittsburgh Restaurant Workers Aid now has a board of volunteers and two full-time employees, paid through individual dues and a $ 60,000 grant from the Henry J. Hillman Foundation. They are currently partnering with Night Life Line, a crisis relief fund run by and for workers, to raise $ 250,000, which McGill says will mainly go towards overdue bills, food, childcare, transportation and medical bills, according to feedback from recipients.

“In many ways, it feels like the pandemic has just ended completely. But for many restaurant workers, it doesn’t end there. Many workers in other industries that have been really badly hit by the pandemic are still very real, “says McGill. “And these lasting effects will continue for a while.”

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