STROUDSBURG, PA — A new effort in Northeast PA is underway to support out-of-work restaurant and hospitality employees through the end of the year. On December 15, Pocono Mountain United …
STROUDSBURG, PA — A new effort in Northeast PA is underway to support out-of-work restaurant and hospitality employees through the end of the year. On December 15, Pocono Mountain United Way—a combination of the two groups United Way of Monroe County and the Pocono Alliance—introduced its Hospitality & Restaurant Worker Relief Fund. So far, nearly $70,000 has been raised.
In response to peak levels of COVID-19 in Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf and the Department of Health recently prohibited indoor dining, among a list of other restrictions, until Monday, January 4. Hospitality leaders in the area have serious concerns about what effect this, on top of past restrictions and lack of state relief, will have on the industry. More directly, Wayne County Commissioner Joe Adams said that the restrictions strain a substantial number of Wayne County workers.
“The restaurants and resorts are big business in our area and enormous employers,” Adams said. “Between the Settlers Hospitality Group, all the small restaurants and Woodloch [Resort], it’s [more than] 1,000 employees that are now unemployed temporarily.”
The Pocono region’s economy is seasonally driven, and the winter months are typically considered a slow period. But Adams said that December is a lucrative month for hospitality during a regular year.
“December in the hospitality business is a big month. People have their holiday parties—parties for their business. They have vacation time that they want to spend up here. The ski areas are open now... that has a direct effect on us.”
As the River Reporter covered last week, the state of the industry looks only more dire since Pennsylvania chose to use the remaining $1.3 billion of its CARES Act funding to balance its books, rather than disperse it to heavily impacted businesses throughout the state.
To support this localized relief effort, the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau has made a $50,000 kickstart donation toward the fund, and in total, more than $65,000 has been raised so far. United Way and chamber of commerce organizations across all four counties have partnered in the initiative.
Other donors include the United Way of Lackawanna and Wayne Counties, which contributed $5,000; the Mattioli Foundation, contributing $5,000; ESSA Bank & Trust, contributing $5,000; and Karl and Ann Weiler, who contributed $3,000.
“For the past 10 months, hospitality and restaurant workers have increased their health and safety protocols while navigating the uncertainty of employment and the stressors of everyday living in a pandemic,” said Pocono Mountains United Way President and CEO Michael Tukeva at a press conference. “These individuals continue to show up. They smile while their hearts break. They offer discounts on their most prized dishes just to put bread on their own plates. Now, they need our help more than ever.”
As an offshoot of Pocono Mountains United Way’s Crisis Response Fund, all of the donations collected will be utilized in the form of direct mini-grants to workers. Hospitality and restaurant employees throughout the region can apply online at www.poconounitedway.org for financial assistance. The application requires basic demographic information, a 2019 tax return and a most recent paystub to determine income eligibility and verify recent employment. Applications will be approved on a first-come, first served basis and mini-grants of $250 gift cards will be issued until funds are depleted.
The fund is accepting further donations through its website, or donors can mail contributions to Pocono Mountains United Way 301 McConnell St., Stroudsburg, PA 18360 and include “Hospitality & Restaurant Worker Relief Fund” in the memo.