Restaurant workers and bartenders in need are getting 'adopted' through Facebook

The restaurant industry is among the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic. In communities across the US, people are "adopting" restaurant workers on socia...

Posted: Jan 10, 2021 12:37 PM
Updated: Jan 10, 2021 1:15 PM

The restaurant industry is among the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic. In communities across the US, people are 'adopting' restaurant workers on social networks to help alleviate their hardships.

A search for 'Adopt a Server' groups and pages on Facebook yields over 40 results across locations in the United States, from New Jersey to Kentucky, Missouri, California, Florida, and others.

In the Pittsburgh area, over 1,000 people have joined the 'Adopt a Server/Bartender Allegheny County' group since it was created before Thanksgiving.

Erin Matuch, a 32-year-old living in Pittsburgh who worked as a server in her college years, created the group after reading about a similar initiative in a different state.

'I can't imagine what they're going through right now,' Matuch told CNN.

Matuch runs her own business from home, selling screen-printed t-shirts, and uses Facebook to promote her activity. She decided to use her skills on the platform to launch the community and spread the word, after noticing there were no such groups in her area.

She approves each post in the group, giving tips to folks submitting requests for help on what information to share, as well as connecting helpers to people who need assistance. Most need cash, and help buying groceries and household supplies, Matuch said.

'The group is growing every day and people are helping each other every day. Servers are even helping each other with the little they have,' she told CNN.

RELATED: Health care workers are being adopted by people who want to thank them for their sacrifices

Similar efforts have cropped up on social media to support other groups of people hit hard by the pandemic, from single moms to teachers, to health care workers.

'We've certainly seen people come together in groups to help others during the pandemic, particularly in local communities,' Leonard Lam, a Facebook spokesperson, told CNN.

Last year, people raised more than $100 million for Covid-19 causes through Facebook and Instagram, according to Facebook.

Helping in more ways than one

Matuch believes the group provides more than just a helping hand for those who need it: 'It also helps them to know they aren't alone, there are others in the same boat, and it isn't their fault.'

In Pennsylvania, where Matuch's group operates, a three-week ban on indoor dining went into effect on December 12 and was lifted on January 4. Currently, indoor dining is allowed at 50% or 25% reduced capacity, depending on restaurants self-certifying their adherence to relevant guidance on curbing the spread of Covid-19.

Tara Allen, a 39-year-old who worked as a cook, server and bartender at a bar in Meadville, two and a half hours north of Pittsburgh, told CNN she lost her job when the temporary ban went into effect.

'When the time came to come back I didn't get put back on the schedule,' Allen said. During the pandemic, Allen lost two jobs, but this time she didn't qualify for unemployment insurance, she said.

She found relief in the Facebook group created by Matuch, with people helping her pay for her stay at a hotel and for household needs while she is in between apartments and starting a new job she was able to find, Allen explained.

Along with material support, the most important thing Allen said the group provided was 'the feeling of safety, and that I'm not a burden either.'

'Bumps in the road happen, and I've had a Pennsylvania pot-holed road,' Allen said.

A crisis on top of a crisis

The magnitude of the crisis in the restaurant industry cannot be overstated, and it exposed an already vulnerable work force that relies on tips for a large portion of their income.

About 110,000 restaurants across the country, or 17% of the total are permanently closed or experiencing long-term closures, according to the National Restaurant Association. The group wrote to Congress last month to request they enact an industry-specific coronavirus relief package.

Just in the past month, employment in food services and drinking places declined by 372,000, according to data released on Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Over 5.4 million jobs in food services and drinking places were lost between March and April 2020, the biggest monthly decrease over the course of the pandemic according to BLS data. While many of those jobs were restored, overall, since February 2020, over 2.4 million jobs in the industry were lost, BLS estimates.

'During the pandemic, workers were devastated,' Saru Jayaraman told CNN. She is the president of One Fair Wage, a national nonprofit that advocates for tipped workers, and the director of UC Berkeley's Food Labor Research Center.

'Even prior to the pandemic, this was both the second largest and absolutely fastest growing work force of 13.6 million restaurant workers in the US, but has been the nation's absolute lowest paying workforce for decades,' she said.

According to Jayaraman, 70% of tipped workers in America are women. 'They're largely single mothers, women of color, really struggling to make ends meet before the pandemic because they earned a sub minimum wage and were reliant on tips.'

As the federal minimum wage for tipped workers has stayed stagnant at $2.13 an hour since 1991, there are only seven US states that require employers to pay tipped workers the full state's minimum wage before tips. That's not the case in the other 43 states.

Among workers surveyed by One Fair Wage during the pandemic, many have reported they were unable to qualify for unemployment insurance because they didn't meet the minimum earnings threshold for it. Jayaraman explained that a lack of reporting of cash tips from workers and employers, especially in smaller businesses, contributes to this issue.

'That really was an eye opener for a lot of workers and employers. It was a moment in which a lot of workers realized that -- wait a second -- if the state is telling me I earned too little to get benefits, then maybe I earned too little,' Jayaraman said.

RELATED: These 20 states will raise their minimum wage by January 1

Food service workers surveyed by One Fair Wage have reported a decrease in tips by at least 50% since the beginning of the pandemic, an increase in hostile behavior from customers in response to staff enforcing coronavirus safety protocols, and an increase in unwanted sexual comments from customers, Jayaraman said.

One Fair Wage created an emergency fund to support tipped workers, raising over $23 million and receiving nearly 230,000 applications, Jayaraman said.

'Mutual aid arises in these moments of depression and recession in America, but it's not going to cover it,' she said, adding that a Democrat-controlled Senate should follow through and pass the Raise the Wage Act. The measure, which passed in the House in July 2019, would gradually increase the federal minimum wage to $15 by 2025, and repeal the sub minimum wage for tipped workers.

President-elect Joe Biden campaigned on the promise to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour, and during a speech on Friday introducing members of his economics and jobs team, he expressed hope that Democratic control of the House and the Senate would 'raise the odds of prompt action on increasing the minimum wage.'

'No one should work as millions are doing today 40 hours a week at a job and still live below the poverty line,' Biden said. 'They're entitled to at least a $15 minimum wage per hour.'

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 613228

Reported Deaths: 9728
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion846851338
Lake45676687
Allen32980552
Hamilton29649315
St. Joseph27531382
Elkhart24478345
Vanderburgh19610250
Tippecanoe18108141
Johnson15191295
Porter14944169
Hendricks14485250
Madison11044222
Clark10811144
Vigo10795181
Monroe9458113
Delaware9170134
LaPorte9145164
Howard8292144
Kosciusko810183
Warrick680299
Hancock6782104
Bartholomew6640100
Floyd6507110
Wayne6177162
Grant6027116
Dubois558680
Boone556468
Morgan548695
Henry511464
Marshall506984
Cass486964
Dearborn486545
Noble475659
Jackson427747
Shelby420781
Lawrence393780
Clinton375044
Gibson374459
Harrison353045
DeKalb349864
Montgomery347654
Knox336239
Miami324544
Steuben315046
Whitley311126
Wabash305851
Adams302836
Ripley300546
Putnam298950
Huntington294860
Jasper291734
White275143
Daviess271774
Jefferson266238
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Fayette248648
Greene242262
Posey241028
Wells236951
LaGrange230062
Scott226839
Clay224332
Randolph215248
Jennings200636
Sullivan193533
Spencer193022
Washington188023
Fountain184927
Starke176444
Jay168623
Owen167637
Fulton164830
Orange160935
Carroll159715
Rush156318
Perry155929
Vermillion149734
Franklin149333
Tipton133133
Parke13088
Pike118526
Blackford111822
Pulaski97837
Newton92021
Brown88335
Benton87110
Crawford8099
Martin74913
Warren6857
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Union6297
Ohio4977
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Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 868656

Reported Deaths: 10768
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin102154707
Cuyahoga865201153
Hamilton64744448
Montgomery43516419
Summit35250762
Lucas31663631
Butler31268232
Stark26096443
Warren19830142
Lorain19296229
Mahoning17471339
Lake16250154
Clermont16128112
Delaware1453680
Licking13326137
Fairfield1294981
Trumbull12920317
Greene12174141
Medina11732168
Clark11058265
Wood10457158
Allen9988127
Portage9454111
Miami924473
Richland9236118
Marion7486113
Tuscarawas7440183
Columbiana7409124
Pickaway732150
Wayne7111172
Muskingum710342
Erie6221130
Ross5558100
Hancock555292
Scioto542764
Geauga515955
Darke473492
Lawrence460658
Union456928
Ashtabula456473
Sandusky439562
Mercer435089
Seneca433866
Huron432841
Auglaize424164
Shelby422522
Jefferson422469
Belmont421145
Washington394240
Athens38389
Putnam378075
Madison358129
Knox356122
Ashland349038
Fulton340443
Defiance334486
Crawford325774
Preble322737
Brown315821
Logan312132
Ottawa296543
Clinton291543
Williams280367
Highland279018
Jackson265845
Guernsey257126
Champaign253428
Fayette239530
Morrow23464
Perry233718
Holmes226774
Henry221953
Hardin215533
Coshocton206922
Van Wert203445
Gallia199826
Wyandot196751
Pike178017
Adams177715
Hocking173224
Carroll157616
Paulding145321
Noble121040
Meigs109724
Monroe102232
Harrison89921
Morgan83931
Vinton71314
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