Feed Hospitality Nourishes Workers in Need

July 10, 2020

Growing up in a restaurant family, Nora Furst has been part of the hospitality community for as long as she can remember. “My first official job was as a dishwasher at age 15, and I pretty much haven’t skipped a beat since,” she says. Over the years, she built a distinguished career as a bartender and cocktail and spirits consultant, most recently at True Laurel, California Gold, and Flores.

But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the restaurant and bar industry collapsed in March, she suddenly found herself unemployed and scrambling to make ends meet. With help from a new program called Feed Hospitality from CUESA and the United States Bartenders Guild (USBG), she received a bountiful box of fresh produce, which meant she had one less thing to worry about for the moment: putting food on the table.

“This program means so much right now. It is a literal lifeline for us,” says Nora. “With so much uncertainty in our industry in this time, these boxes not only feed us and keep us healthy⁠—they give us hope.”

Feeding People Who Feed Us

When Bay Area restaurants and bars closed due to shelter-in-place orders, Nora and thousands other members of the restaurant and bar community lost their livelihoods overnight. Meanwhile, local farms who depended on high-volume restaurant sales lost upwards of 50% of their income. 

In response to the crisis, Larry Piaskowy, who serves as the Chairman of the Board of the USBG, came to CUESA with an idea. For over a decade, CUESA and the USGB have had co-created a popular fundraising series, Cocktails of the Farmers Market, where bartenders like Nora have generously donated their time and talents in support of CUESA’s farmers markets and food education programs.

Through the USBG, Larry had received interest from spirit companies who wanted to donate funds to support out-of-work bartenders. With those funds, CUESA could purchase fresh produce from local farms to give back to hospitality workers in need.

“Hospitality employees usually don’t make a lot of money and usually don’t have a lot of savings, so there are not a lot of resources for them to turn to,” says Larry, who is also the Bar Director of restaurant Rich Table. “But if we can help do something for each other during this time, maybe we can make our industry better.” 

A Win-Win for Hospitality Workers and Farmers

The new initiative, called Feed Hospitality, launched on April 7, provide 35 free produce boxes for workers to pick up curbside at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. So far, 650 boxes have been distributed, generating $25,000 for small, sustainable family farmers.

“When small scale farmers are desperate for new outlets for their produce, and bartenders and servers have been out of a job for two months, what more fitting and direct of a solution can you find?” says CUESA’s Executive Director Christine Farren. “Feed Hospitality provides nourishment for the people who have cared for us, while providing much-needed income for Bay Area farms.”

For fourth-generation organic farmer Rudy Jimenez of Green Thumb Organics, supplying veggie boxes through the Feed Hospitality program has helped make up for lost revenue and increased labor needs during the pandemic.

“The program has personally helped me to vision how to diversify income to continue sustain our overall operations,” says Rudy. “I have used the funds from this program to pay workers, as we needed more people due to the guidelines we have to follow.”

A Growing⁠ Demand

According to recent numbers from the California Employment Development Department, more than half of hospitality workers in the Bay Area have lost their jobs during the pandemic. Many restaurants and bars remain closed, at most offering takeout or delivery. Meanwhile, enhanced unemployment benefits from the CARES Act are due to expire by the end of the July.

There is overwhelming interest and need in Feed Hospitality produce boxes, and CUESA needs funds to meet the growing demand. With a generous donation of $15,000, plus an additional $15,000 matching grant from the Bay Area-based Hangar 1 Distillery, CUESA is launching a public fundraising campaign to meet that $15,000 match and raise a total of $45,000 by July 31, which will provide an additional 1,125 boxes for hospitality workers and their families.

“We’re grateful to Hangar 1 Distillery, who has been a long-time contributor to CUESA and shares our passion for sourcing from local farms when it comes to making their flavored vodkas,” says Christine. “Their generous donation and matching program will really boost the growth of Feed Hospitality. The hospitality community has been there for us all of these years, making us feel so welcome in their establishments and at our events, and they deserve our support in return.”

Nourishment, Comfort, and Connection Amid Uncertainty

With the reopening of the food and beverage industry uncertain⁠ and many restaurants anticipated to permanently close⁠, there is a long road to recovery for hospitality workers. And while a produce box won’t pay the bills, it provides much-needed nourishment for workers and their families when so much is unknown.

“As a hospitality worker of close to 20 years now unemployed and navigating the uncertainty around the future of the industry, having access to healthy food is essential during this stressful time,” says Feed Hospitality participant Susie Valdez. “Feed Hospitality was the first program to provide me with assistance and support, and I am truly grateful and humbled for the help.”

Bar manager Timofei Osipenko says, “Feed Hospitality has reminded all of us why we are all very proud and incredibly thankful to be a part of this community during these turbulent times. Knowing that someone’s got your back brings a sense of normality in these strange and precarious moments.”

“This thing has affected us deeply and dramatically. We will not be back to ‘normal’ for a long time, if ever,” says Nora. “Programs like Feed Hospitality give us strength to keep pushing forth, providing fresh food in our bellies while we pivot and try new things to keep getting up, over and over again, for this industry we love, even as we see it hurting and falling apart in front of our eyes. This program gives us the fuel to keep the bars and restaurants you love ready and open for you⁠—and better than ever⁠—when it’s safe to come back.”

Donate now to hospitality workers in need during the pandemic. Feed Hospitality donations will be matched up to $15,000 through July 31. Hospitality workers interested in signing up for the program can contact feedhospitality@cuesa.org. 

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