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Montreal’s Restaurant Worker Relief Fund Is In It for the Long Haul

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Even when restaurants reopen, one of the fund’s founders anticipates that new problems will arise

The people behind Montreal’s Restaurant Worker Relief Fund (MRWRF) say that they’re gearing up to keep helping workers affected by the novel coronavirus for a potentially long time to come.

Kaitlin Doucette, the co-founder of the fund, says that the fund has pulled in over $100,000 to give to service industry workers laid off due to COVID-19, and that so far, over 500 people have received aid payments from the fund.

The MRWRF is the biggest fundraiser committed to helping laid-off restaurant and bar workers in and around Montreal — while a number of other fundraisers have cropped up on platforms like GoFundMe, MRWRF is the most formalized, with its own website, bank account, a team of people working on it, and clear mechanisms for distributing funds.

One-off payments of either $50, $100, or $150 are available to people in need, although the fund has already had to temporarily suspend applications for funds twice, due to the demand for aid outstripping the money available. Even though affected workers are increasingly able to access employment insurance or the Canada Emergency Relief Benefits (CERB) program, Doucette says the fund is still necessary.

“At least in terms of our federal government compared to the US, people have had an opportunity to have government aid...but I think the need [for further assistance] is immense.”

The funds have clearly been appreciated — MRWRF forwarded a number of anonymous testimonials from its beneficiaries, and the immense gratitude is evident:

“In a time where every penny counts, this is a gift. Everything is very chaotic and stressful, and this just made my day a little less scary.”

“Thank you! The fund is a fantastic help to all of us who lost our jobs but not our hope, and it is going to help me to continue buying groceries.”

“Merci tellement. J’ai pas de mots pour exprimer toute la gratitude que j’ai envers vous et votre campagne de financement. Je vous souhaite le meilleur dans votre futur. Vous êtes des perles .”

At the moment, the fund is not able to help people with requests beyond its $150 maximum — Doucette says that her team is reluctant to ask individuals to furnish detailed documentation that would justify bigger payments, especially when there’s no shortage of people requesting the smaller amounts.

But the fund is still trying to help where it can — for example, while the fund requires recipients to provide a paystub, it’s still open to undocumented workers who may not be able to provide those documents in such a formal way. Plus, the fund’s various volunteers have been willing to step up with non-financial assistance if possible.

“We’ve had one of our volunteers take it upon herself to get some baskets and donations for people who expressed concerns about food security.”

As time goes on, the fund has also been able to establish partnerships to secure extra money — proceeds from a cookbook released by St-Henri restaurant Elena channeled thousands of dollars to the MRWRF, and online retail platform Brunette has also been a major help. Doucette says the fund is still very much open to new partnerships, too.

“We’re happy to collaborate with anyone who feels they have the means.”

Those donations are still necessary Doucette says that the fund isn’t going to become obsolete anytime soon — and even when restaurants and bars reopen, she anticipates that the fund might need to pivot to becoming an advocacy group.

“I personally anticipate another crisis once reopening happens — folks who had had jobs before and maybe are looking to go back, what protections do they have around job security going forward? Are your employers beholden to your previous conditions going forward?“

That’s just one of the possible situations Doucette says may need addressing as time goes on — in short, we’re not out of the woods yet.