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Hospitality professionals across the U.S. have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic – and now, in Missouri, two spirits-industry heavyweights hope to offer some considerable assistance.

In recent weeks, many restaurants in the state have closed temporarily or permanently, leaving many workers unemployed, while others are still offering delivery or curbside pickup. Much has been discussed about how to best offer the industry relief at local, state and federal levels, with many restaurant owners stressing the need for forgivable loans and grants.

That sort of debt-free model is exactly the format of the Missouri Restaurant Association Workers Benefit Fund launched this week by Major Brands and Beam Suntory. The new fund will donate $100,000 to restaurant workers dealing with financial hardship as a result of COVID-19, according to a release. That initial funding was provided by the two companies as well as a separate contribution from Major Brands chief executive officer Sue McCollum.

"Restaurants and their workers are vital to our communities and are among the hardest hit in this crisis," McCollum said. “With our shared belief that good businesses grow by supporting their communities, we felt it was critical to join forces with key suppliers to support the individuals who are both in need and make our state a more vibrant place to live.”

Restaurant industry workers unemployed or negatively affected by COVID-19, whether or not they’re members of the Missouri Restaurant Association, are eligible to apply for relief from the fund. To apply for funds, workers should visit the Missouri Restaurant Association Workers Benefit Fund site.

“We are proud to support our extended restaurant family, who are an integral part of the social fabric throughout Missouri,” said Greg Hughes, President – North America, of Beam Suntory. “We are fortunate to be part of an industry where so many companies are uniting to assist our communities in this unprecedented battle.”

Major Brands, the largest Missouri-based distributor of premium spirits, wine, beer and nonalcoholic beverages, and Beam Suntory, a world leader in premium spirits, are the fund’s founding donors, but the hope is that others will donate to the fund to support Missouri restaurant employees; those interested in doing so should visit the same fund site linked above.

Bob Bonney, chief executive officer of The Missouri Restaurant Association (MRA), praised the initial funding provided by Major Brands, Beam Suntory and McCollum in the release, emphasizing the dire need to aid restaurant workers across the state right now.

“The MRA created the fund to assist restaurant workers and their families during this challenging time,” said Bonney. “The effects of the coronavirus have devastated the restaurant industry, and many of the state’s 300,000 restaurant employees need a helping hand. This founding donation from Beam Suntory, Major Brands and Sue McCollum will allow us to immediately provide support to many of those affected by the pandemic. On behalf of the entire Missouri restaurant community, MRA acknowledges their generosity with heartfelt gratitude.”