Industry relief fund supports struggling restaurant workforce

NEWARK — The Delaware Restaurant Association Educational Foundation recently funded a second round of direct cash grants to more than 100 restaurant workers struggling from income loss and unemployment due to COVID-19 shutdowns and restrictions on their industry.

The individual $365 grants are being paid out to recipients this week, at a time when many are facing a loss of hours and income due to the recent bar/restaurant curfews and the stay-at-home advisory issued by Gov. John Carney.

“Within the last 30 days, thousands of restaurant workers in Delaware have been forced to file for unemployment benefits due to the latest restaurant restrictions and stay at home advisory,” Carrie Leishman, president and CEO of the Delaware Restaurant Association, said in a statement. “However, unlike before when there was federal relief funding, now these workers are left without a job during the holidays, with no relief in sight.

“They make a living with their hands and cannot work from home, nor can they be offered workplace flexibility like those in state and local governments and corporate business sectors. If they do not work, thousands of workers do not earn a paycheck. Our community has acted proactively and swiftly with donations to help those unemployed and underemployed through no fault of their own.”

Ms. Leishman added, “It is inspiring to see restaurants spring to action when their neighbors need them, and we are proud to work with the community in giving back to the industry and workers we value and love.”

The DRAEF founded the Delaware Emergency Action Trust (DE E.A.T.s) when restaurants were first shut down during the stay-at-home order in March. By May (less than eight weeks after its inception), the DE E.A.T.s relief fund raised more than $290,000 and provided critical financial support to more than 575 industry workers.

The DRAEF built the DE E.A.T.s restaurant relief fund with donations from individual industry supporters and grants from local private foundations and corporate partners. The Beer & Benevolence Foundation, created by Dogfish Head founders Sam and Mariah Calagione, provided initial funding, along with sales from their hand sanitizer at Dogfish Head Distilling Co.

The restaurant relief fund was revived in early December on “Giving Tuesday” — a day when many choose to support nonprofits and charities supporting local communities. DE E.A.T.s launched a public campaign and reopened its donation website to accommodate the renewed interest in supporting Delaware’s restaurant workers.

Hundreds of individual donations, as well as large contributions from Paula Janssen of Janssen’s Market and Kevin DiSabatino of DiSabatino Construction Co., were made during the first week of December.

Additionally, a large company donation from Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits of Delaware, representing several nationwide wine and spirits brands, brought the total donations to more than $38,000. Individual cash grants were then issued by the DE E.A.T.s relief fund to 104 restaurant workers.

“The hospitality community has never ceased to amaze us with their innate ability to relay a simple gesture of kindness that ultimately was the lift you didn’t even know you truly needed,” said Michelle Souza, director of commercial on-premises sales for Southern Glazer’s, in a statement. “Without hesitation, we knew it was now our time to pay it forward in what is now their time of need.”

Response from the second round of funding has been emotional, as grants are being delivered this week — just in time for the holidays.

The DRAEF, on behalf of DE E.A.T.s, has received heartfelt thank-yous from recipients that are either working limited hours or unemployed.

One of the responses it received read: “I actually started crying when I read the email. It came at the most needed moment. My daughter was tested yesterday morning for Covid, and I will be out of work for 3-5 days waiting for her results. I can only pray it is negative. I felt like I was drowning today, so yes, I cried! I am humbled and grateful.”