Since launching three years ago, California Restaurant Association Foundation’s “Restaurants Care” hardship program, with a mission to help individuals in the restaurant industry in need, has awarded 477 $500-$1,500 grants to restaurant workers statewide.

In the last five weeks, since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the Sacramento-based program has granted 447 grants, ranging from $300 to $1,000, to restaurant workers either with the coronavirus, taking care of an immediate family member who has fallen ill with the disease or that is unable to access financial support otherwise. In San Diego County, Restaurants Care has aided 155 workers from restaurants like OB Noodle House, Puesto, Craft & Commerce and Raised by Wolves, to list a few, according to Program Director Alycia Harshfield.

“Our mission is to take care of the most vulnerable at heart in our industry and we are staying true to that mission through COVID-19,” said Harshfield, who is based out of Carlsbad and has another four colleagues also headquartered in Southern California.

Philanthropic Efforts

Not only is the program helping restaurant workers in her hometown, she said, but it is also benefitting from the philanthropic efforts from members of San Diego’s food and beverage industry, including Skrewball Peanut Butter Whiskey, which donated $100,000 to the organization.

Steve Yeng, co-owner and founder of Skrewball Peanut Butter Whiskey, said having been a part of the restaurant community for the past decade, he and his wife, Brittany Yeng, felt a special connection to the organization, its mission and its work in helping people in his own backyard.

Provide the Most Impact

“When Brittany and I heard about and quickly saw the impact that restaurant and bar dine-in closures were going to have on the food service industry, we knew we had to help our community and we had to do it fast,” said Steve Yeng. “Our family has been in the bar and restaurant industry for over 10 years and we were thinking about what we could do to provide the most impact to assist others, so we quickly committed to a couple of initiatives. We know it takes an entire team.”

To apply for a Restaurants Care grant, Harshfield said individuals have to complete an application online and it is first come, first serve. She said there are nearly 7,000 more requests for grants in the cue, which the organization can’t currently cover. To continue to raise funds and fulfill the immediate needs of restaurant workers statewide, Harshfield said California Restaurant Association Foundation is rethinking its funding model to hopefully continue to sustain the program and counting on the San Diego community to help do so. Because the organization is very business-to-business oriented, she said the challenge will be in becoming more consumer-facing to gain the support of individuals.

Raise Awareness

In the meantime, Restaurants Care will continue to use social media and its platform to raise awareness, said Harshfield. On that front, the program is currently running a campaign on its social media handles and website called “86 My Hair”, with members of the culinary industry vowing to significantly cut their hair or shave their heads once their fundraising goals are met.