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How to Donate to Help Restaurant Workers as the Industry’s Covid-19 Struggles Continue

As PPP fades and restaurants continue to shutter, the need for these groups only continues to grow.

herbfarm woodinville Photo: courtesy Herbfarm

In the early days of the pandemic, social media was awash in GoFundMe pages and charities asking for donations to help laid-off restaurant and bar workers. Millions across hospitality lost their job nearly overnight. In February, the industry employed 12.3 million people in America; by April, that number plummeted to 6.2 million, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Since then, with the help of the Paycheck Protection Program and cessation of shelter-in-place orders, the industry has clawed its way back to employ 9.2 million people.

However, as the restaurant industry faces increased restrictions on indoor dining again and bars in many cities are forced to cease operations for the time being, layoffs are looming. Add to the equation that PPP funds are running out and the federal unemployment subsidy expires this month unless Congress extends the program. Hospitality workers currently face a dire economic outlook. Those relief organizations publicized heavily at the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis continue to help at-risk people and still need donations to support their causes. Here are groups you can donate to in order to boost their efforts.

Southern Smoke Foundation

chris shepherd southern smoke

Chef Chris Shepherd has shifted the focus of Southern Smoke during the pandemic.  Southern Smoke

In 2015, Shepherd created Southern Smoke, at first raising money for the Multiple Sclerosis Society. A couple years later, in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, the foundation changed its mission to help people in the hospitality industry in need. Since the pandemic began it has been deluged with grant applications from hospitality workers affected by the crisis with more than 27,000 applications pouring in. It has responded by distributing more than $2.8 million to workers and raising $10 million since March, while also providing free mental health services to Texas-based food and beverage professionals and their kids.

How to Donate


United States Bartenders’ Guild Emergency Assistance Program

States and cities have been more cautious allowing bars to reopen and quicker to close them as they appear to be susceptible to spreading Covid-19. Thus, that has left a lot of bartenders, bar backs and servers out of work. The USBG has responded with more than 30,000 grants to individuals, distributing $9.2 million. They’ve had a base of nearly 5,000 donors, but are continuing to raise funds as the pandemic continues.

How to Donate

World Central Kitchen

world central kitchen

Sunni Gilliam of Teavolve in Baltimore partnered with WCK.  Photo: courtesy World Central Kitchen

José Andrés charity usually finds itself in places devastated by a natural disaster, feeding people while essential services are cut off. In the wake of Covid-19 the organization has created #ChefsForAmerica, where funds help both restaurants and people in need. WCK uses donations (like the $1 million Phil and Monica Rosenthal gave) to inject cash into restaurants struggling with Covid-19 shutdowns by contracting them to make meals for people in their community.

How to Donate

Restaurant Worker Community Foundation Crisis Relief Fund

The RWCF has raised nearly $6.5 million since the crisis and distributed $2.69 million of those funds so far. The foundation is offering 50 percent of its funds directly to individuals, 25 percent to nonprofits and the remaining 25 percent in the form of zero-interest loans to businesses. For individuals it has partnered with Southern Smoke to distribute money and then has also given grants to organizations around America that are helping workers in crisis locally like Big-Table in Seattle and La Cocina in San Francisco.

How to Donate

Restaurant Employee Relief Fund

Led by the fundraising efforts of Guy Fieri, who has brought in $20 million for the organization, the National Restaurant Association is providing grants directly to restaurant workers who’ve had their wages decrease or lost their jobs entirely during the Covid-19 crisis.

How to Donate

The LEE Initiative

lee initiative

LEE supports restaurants across the country feeding unemployed restaurant workers.  courtesy LEE Initiative

Lindsey Ofcacek and Edward Lee founded LEE (Let’s Empower Employment) in 2015 to foster diversity and equality in the restaurant industry. They offered programs like the Women’s Chef Initiative and Smoke & Soul Initiative. Since Covid-19 hit, the group pivoted to help unemployed restaurant workers. They’ve partnered with restaurants in numerous cities to turn into centers where those workers could receive provisions and to-go meals. They’re also helping keep food supply chains afloat through its Restaurant Reboot Relief Program, which is committed to purchasing at least $1 million from sustainable farms.

How to Donate

Funds for Individual Restaurant Groups

Restaurants across the country also created funds directly for their employees. Some chefs, like Thomas Keller with his Keller Restaurant Relief Fund and Gavin Kaysen and Heart of the House, set up 501(c)(3) foundations so that anyone people could make tax-deductible donations to help employees across their constellation of restaurants. And around the country, many restaurants set up GoFundMe pages that are still active, but have shied away from them of late because GoFundMe made receiving the donations difficult.

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