Local businesses in the 150-member Lawrence Restaurant Association (LRA) have banded together and established a hospitality relief fund for employees of locally-owned food and beverage businesses. The association has raised nearly $20,000 so far. The organization has begun distributing assistance payments to applicants facing hardship from layoffs and job loss during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Applications are vetted by a committee within one business day. The application review committee includes Emily Peterson of Merchants Pub & Plate, Codi Bates of Bates Co. (which operates Burger Stand at the Casbah, Burger Stand at College Hill, Bon Bon and Cider Gallery), and founding chef Rick Martin of Limestone Pizza. K. Ashby Meisel, co-founder of Leeway Franks and Leeway Butcher, is acting as treasurer of the fund to reconcile donations received and approved applications with distribution of funds. Funds are transferred electronically or by check (as requested) within three business days.
“Within the first five days of launching the fund, we’ve received about 100 applications for a total of $20,250 in requested aid. We’ve raised $18,994,” Meisel says. “Aid is being distributed on a daily basis and will continue for as long as donations keep up with the need.”
The relief fund originated with a GoFundMe campaign launched by LRA members Shantel Grace and Rozz Petrozz of Ramen Bowls. “Initially, small donations were received,” Meisel says. “To help the fund gain momentum, leaders of the Lawrence Restaurant Association came together to make targeted requests of supporters in the community and develop structure for the program to begin delivering aid to members of our hospitality community.”
“The essence of hospitality is still profound in our community,” adds Shantel Grace, who also operates Luckyberry Kitchen & Cocktails and Moonfluf Organic Cotton Candy. “Workers and business owners continue to feed those in need. The opportunity to give something back to our employee-families, who are so deeply hurting right now, is truly the mission of the crisis fund.”
LRA established $250 as the ceiling for funds awarded per approved application. “We wish we could do more. We want to provide aid to as many people as possible,” Meisel says “With an estimated 6,000-7,000 hospitality workers in Lawrence, we are limited in how much aid we can provide.”
Relief funds are intended to assist with paying for groceries, bills, transportation and other immediate expenses. Meisel notes that in order to distribute $250 to even half of the estimated hospitality workers in Lawrence, LRA would need to receive at least $750,000 in donations.
The website provides links for financial contributions, an application for receiving aid and links to other community resources including mental health and financial advice.
Operating as a nonprofit organization, the LRA has established a bank account to receive funds at Mid-America Bank in Lawrence. Checks are accepted. Donations may be made via PayPal or Venmo. “We ask that those who are considering donating think of how much they might normally spend at dining and drinking establishments in a week or month and contribute that amount to the fund,” Meisel says.
The effort by LRA to provide relief to hospitality industry workers has generated an outpouring of support. “We can't do it alone,” Meisel says.
Additional support is needed from the public and insurance companies, which are denying business interruption claims and therefore forcing so many businesses to lay off their employees or close their doors for good, Meisel explains. Direct funding assistance from state and federal government entities is also necessary.
“Business owners are facing the difficult decision of taking on yet more debt or closing,” Meisel says. “Current processes to request assistance either in the form of unemployment benefits or business relief funding from government entities are lengthy and burdensome with long processing times to begin receiving aid. Government bodies and state insurance commissions have the power to help the small businesses upon which our economy is built as well as workers and small business owners, who are suddenly unemployed and have therefore not only lost their incomes but benefits such as health insurance.”
She wants to see higher rates of unemployment benefits and insurance companies being required to approve business interruption claims due to state-mandated emergency closures.
“Long-term, we hope that this fund will continue to support employees who face financial uncertainties, mental health and substance abuse treatment and general life emergencies,” Grace says. “The people who've donated so graciously are those who understand the meaning of enlightened hospitality.”
Lawrence Restaurant Association, lawrencerestaurantassociation.com