How one community raised $54k to support local restaurant workers during the economic shutdown

Sep 10, 2020

When restaurants had to close their doors unexpectedly back in March, it hit the food service community in a number of ways. Owners were met with financial challenges while trying to lead their team in new directions and maintain morale. Some independent restaurants and food service operators were able to successfully pivot to takeout orders, but others struggled as they were faced with limited income streams and indefinite restrictions around the use of indoor dining rooms and patios.

For a cook, server or other restaurant employee, this was a stressful time. Fortunately, the food service industry is made up of hardworking, dedicated community members who have each other’s backs. Here’s how one idea turned into a string of good deeds and became a major fundraiser that helped the restaurant community through a hard time.

It started with The Neighbourhood Group

Court Desautels is CEO of The Neighbourhood Group, which manages a number of restaurants in the Guelph and Kitchener area including The Wooly Pub, Borealis Grille and Bar, Miijidaa Cafe and Bistro, and Park Grocery Deli and Bar. When the pandemic hit, Court and his team began an initiative that involved selling gift cards to supportive patrons and community leaders while his restaurants were shut down. Instead of the profits from these gift cards going to The Neighbourhood Group, they were redirected to restaurant staff. He set a goal of $10,000 and got to work.

Court started the fundraiser on a Monday and in just two days, over $15,000 was raised in support of food service workers. By the weekend, they were up to $20,000. Around that time, local artist Barbara Salsberg Matthews had to cancel an art show at Miijidaa as a result of the pandemic. She decided to turn her disappointment into a positive experience for others, donating 8 pieces of original art that the Neighbourhood Group could auction off in support of their fundraiser. Thanks to this generous contribution, another $3000 was raised.

The momentum kept going. People were even buying gift gifts in Court’s name, essentially donating money without taking the value of the gift card for themselves. The community just wanted to support their local restaurant workers! It was incredible to see.

In the end, an outstanding total of $54,000 was raised to support food service workers. These funds not only subsidized lost income for restaurant staff, a portion of the money was used to ensure that workers didn’t have to pay for any of their healthcare benefits. In a challenging time, that’s something to feel great about!

The ripple effect

This community’s generosity didn’t end there. In addition to acts of kindness and support from the community to restaurant staff, there were acts of kindness by the restaurant workers themselves. Court soon learned that many of the employees receiving donated funds were preparing and serving meals at a local shelter. Hospitality workers in Guelph started sharing resources on social media to support mental health for their peers. As much as they were receiving help, they were offering back to others. It was truly inspiring.

Our team at Morton Food Service jumped in as well, donating products to food banks and shelters in need. We provided sandwiches, pantry items and over 200 litres of restaurant quality soup. It felt great to give back, particularly when so many restaurant staff were helping make it happen! (Have we mentioned that we love this industry?)

Best practices for your community fundraiser

If you’re considering a similar fundraiser in your community, here are some best practices to consider.

  1. Be specific: set a clear goal and communicate this clearly. For example, raising $5,000 by X date with funds going directly to the staff of Y restaurant. A targeted ask will often perform better than a broad request for support.
  2. Make donating simple using online tools (accepting EMT, for example).
  3. Use social media to spread the word and increase awareness of your initiative. Facebook ads and boosted posts will help to get the word out about your cause.
  4. Update your community on a regular basis, both in how much money has been raised and how it’s helping/going to help the intended recipients. If you hit your goal early, don’t hesitate to reset it to a higher amount!
  5. Once you’ve officially ended your fundraiser, share final information and thank everyone for donating. It may help to have a communication plan to refer to throughout this initiative. Include key touch points for easy and consistent messaging.
  6. Finally, keep records of EVERYTHING – money received, money distributed, etc. You’ll want to have this information on file and ideally, all donation money will be kept separately from business and personal funds.

The power of community

At the end of the day, this story isn’t about selling gift cards to raise money for restaurant workers during a time of need. It’s about how communities rally and support each other through hard times, and celebrate each other in good.

Court and his team started something amazing, and we’re proud to work with them. If you have a similar story of community support, please let us know! We’d love to share it with our audience. Thanks for reading, and thanks again to all of the generous, dedicated individuals that made this happen. You make your community stronger, and we’re truly grateful.