TL;DR A relief fund has been set up to assist Montreal's restaurant workforce during the COVID-19 crisis.
Amid the spread of the novel coronavirus, more than 7,000 restaurants and bars across Montreal have closed their doors or are operating a limited capacity. The downturn has left thousands of chefs, dishwashers, bartenders, and front-of-house staff temporarily out of work or unemployed.
In response, Foxy sommelier Kaitlin Doucette has teamed up with Jessica Cytryn, a food and wine law worker with more than 10 years experiences in the industry, and a volunteer group of organizers to found Montreal Restaurant Workers Relief Fund (MRWRF). Launched today, the initiative aims to collect contributions from individual and corporate donors on GoFundMe to support the impacted workforce.
“The fund is meant to provide a little bit of a safety net in very uncertain times,” Doucette tells us. The idea for the concept is modelled in part off a similar effort in New York City called the Restaurant Workers Community Foundation COVID-19 Crisis Relief Fund, who Doucette consulted with while establishing the framework for the Montreal campaign.
The goal is to offer quick financial aid to those unable to pay for bills, groceries, health products, and other urgent needs. Direct payments in $50, $100, and $150 amounts will be transferred within a few days to applicants who are asked to submit a short form and provide proof of employment, such as a pay stub, if possible. “It was really a response to seeing many of my colleagues not know how they would be able to afford groceries or have access to medication for a long enough period,” Ducette says.
Many workers will also be eligible for the government’s expanded eligibility for employment insurance, but approval and payment can take up to 28 days or longer. Undocumented workers are another group the fund aims to support. Doucette has applied for employment insurance herself and has not received an update on her file. “It seems they’re a little overwhelmed. I know they’re all doing their best,” she says. “We want to be able to respond quickly to those in immediate need.”
Under the best circumstances, food and service work is precarious. In Quebec, profit margins remain at a low average of four percent. In 2017, the accommodations and food sector accounted for 18 percent of bankruptcies in Canada, despite only representing seven percent of businesses. Over the past few years, rent hikes, evictions, and other leasing disputes have exasperated the industry, leaving many storefronts vacant on streets like Saint Laurent and Saint Denis.
GoFundMe requires the Montreal Restaurant Workers Relief Fund to have a financial goal, but according to Doucette, the sky’s the limit. Restaurateurs, including Dyan Solomon of Olive & Gourmando, and establishments such as Larry’s, Crew Collective, September Surf, Mandy’s, and Joe Beef, have already shared support for the initiative.
“We’re excited about the buzz generated so far, and hope that we’re able to reach workers as much as we’re able to reach people who would like to contribute,” Doucette says.
To contribute or learn more, visit the GoFundMe page for the Montreal Restaurant Workers Relief Fund (MRWRF).