Pittsburgh Restaurant Employees Support holds meals on employee tables

Kacy McGill and Taylor Stessney, co-founders and co-chairs of the local nonprofit Pittsburgh Restaurant Workers Aid, saw the need to help her restaurant colleagues when the food service industry closed in mid-March. What began as a Facebook group and a small operation on McGill’s front porch now benefits hundreds of workers and their families every week.

“We basically started on the night the restaurants were closed, March 16,” said McGill. “I sent Taylor a Facebook message like, ‘Hey, do you think this would be helpful if we started a group on Facebook?'”

PRWA distributed Care packages Their North Point Breeze distribution center stocks groceries, cleaning supplies, pet food, diapers and more every Tuesday through Saturday. Through the care package program and their GoFundMe With a campaign that raised over $ 57,000 in grants for redistribution, and multiple partnerships with local businesses and nonprofits, the group is helping workers in one of the industries hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic offered.

According to McGill, who worked on a bartending shift the night before the shutdown, constant changes in restaurant regulations have resulted in inconsistent hours for workers. They said that even after restaurants reopened, the lack of customers and limited building capacity resulted in a decline in tips, which make up a large part of the income of many restaurant workers.

“They still had to show up for work, and it’s a minimum wage so they don’t make any money,” McGill said. “We already have a number of regulations in place in our industry and it has been really difficult for workers to work consistently.”

Larisa Mednis, PRWA’s advocacy organizer, found herself in a precarious position this spring while hosting. They said that not only do restaurant workers face inconsistent schedules and salaries, but they also struggle to feel safe while serving the public.

“When COVID started, we faced many challenges as workers in advocating for our health and safety and trying to just advocate better protection for ourselves, such as paying for hazards or having adequate PPE”, said Mednis.

Mednis quit her service job in June and applied to PRWA soon after. In their current position, they will communicate with those receiving PRWA care packages to ensure the supplies meet their needs. Mednis also helps workers find resources from other organizations that guide them through filing for unemployment offer temporary housing and link them with affordable childcare, to name a few.

According to Mednis, PRWA has also worked with several local and national groups to meet the diverse needs of restaurant staff. These groups include Petagogy, a local pet store, and Hungry Hippo’s Pet Food PantryBoth provide PRWA with pet food. The Western PA diaper bank PRWA also gives free diapers and other baby items – something McGill said is vital for many restaurant workers.

“40% of our recipients have loved ones in need of diapers,” said McGill. “I think when people think of restaurant workers they tend to think of people our age, like 20-30 years old. But they don’t think about the people who have been in the industry for 20 years. “

Mednis said that while PRWA can help workers with their immediate basic needs such as food, diapers and housing, their help cannot effectively replace a stable income.

“If people don’t have money, they can’t take care of these things. There are rental assistance programs, but they won’t cover all of them, ”Mednis said. “These social service and faith-based organizations only have so much money. They are not the government and they only have so much capacity to issue them. “

The Labor Statistics Office found that between February 2020 and this January employment in the ‘leisure and hospitality’ sectors, including bars and restaurants, declined by 22.9% nationwide. Pennsylvania has seen The federal government supports over 5 million applications Pandemic unemployment assistance and Compensation for unemployment in the event of a pandemic Programs, with many applicants complain of congested phone lines and payment delays.

Even for those who have received unemployment, Stessney said the months ahead will prove to be stressful as recipients Filing taxes on their unemployment controls.

“Now that we are approaching tax return season, people are getting these returns to pay their taxes on what they received from unemployment,” said Stessney. “But many people didn’t get all of unemployment either, so they pay taxes on money they never received.”

Given the changing regulations for bars and restaurants in Allegheny County, McGill said PRWA needs to tailor its programs to meet workers’ needs. You said the group sees significantly less demand than companies in the summer months opened againbut tighten Regulations After the increase in winter, in case the number of employees was sent back to PRWA for help.

“We try to keep our finger on the pulse of what is going on as best we can, especially when it comes to politics [and] Unemployment – we followed weekly to see what updates were happening to their system, ”said McGill. “Just let people know that we have the resources in the meantime, but keep them updated on what’s going on.”

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