Emergency fund for RI hospitality workers extends a lifeline to those in need – The Providence Journal

Christopher Moore woke up one day early this summer with no feeling on his left side, arms and legs — and no vision in his left eye. He has no memory of being driven to the hospital — only waking up the next day with a team of doctors that included a neurosurgeon surrounding his bed.
The surgeon told Moore that they had removed an abscess the size of his fist from the right side of his head that had left him partially paralyzed. The only warning he’d had leading up to it: an excruciating headache at his grandmother’s funeral a few days earlier.
“I think there was some thought about me not being able to walk,” said Moore, who is the manager of the Public Kitchen and Bar at the Renaissance Providence Downtown Hotel.
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He didn’t know it at the time, but Moore — who has spent his career working in the restaurant industry — would receive support from a special fund created during the pandemic by the Rhode Island Hospitality Association to help restaurant, hotel and tourism workers who have unexpected emergency expenses.
Over the last year, the fund, with a one-time allocation of up to $1,000, has helped hundreds of people.
“We don’t have an unlimited amount of money, but we want to make sure the money goes back to the employees, who have worked so hard in this industry,” said Dale Venturini, the longtime president of the hospitality association. “They’ve lost their jobs, came back to work and now may need a little extra help.”
The good news for Moore is that he’s largely back to normal after a long road of rehabilitation and recovery. He still has some vision problems in his left eye and tingling in one of his feet, but the doctors say they believe both will clear up in time. And the fund helped him financially while he was out of work.
Venturini said the association had established a nonprofit education foundation in the mid-1990s that funded travel and tourism programs in local high schools. Early in the pandemic she secured grants from the Rhode Island Foundation and United Way to get the employee-relief effort off the ground. Because the nonprofit was already established, it made the process easier.
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In March 2020, longtime hospitality association board member Alfred A. Zannella died unexpectedly. Mancini Beverage, where Zannella worked as executive vice president, gave a substantial contribution to the fund. And it took off from there.
Venturini began to hear the stories about the need. “You can’t get to work because your transmission blew, right? Why don’t we help you fix your transmission,” she would tell one applicant. “Or daycare, there was a lot of things that would fall under the new fund.”
The hospitality association’s chief operating officer, Heather Singleton, who oversees the fund, said something amazing happened when word spread about how it was helping people.
“The money was just coming in from random people we didn’t even know,” she said. “I reached out to everybody [who donated] and said, ‘What connection do you have to our industry?’ And you know what most people said to me? ‘We just enjoy eating out, and we miss seeing our favorite server.’”
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While the average contribution has been $200, others donated their $600 stimulus checks.
“People started calling us that weren’t even related to the industry, asking if they could give money,” Venturini said. “I had somebody tell me, ‘We got some money from the federal government, the $600, and we were OK, so we decided that we wanted to find somewhere to give it back.’”
Singleton said the fund helped a woman who worked at a restaurant in Newport but was originally from Connecticut. “And her father became ill with COVID,” she said. “Unfortunately, he ended up passing, and she had to drive back and forth from Newport to Connecticut to help her mother out with the arrangements, and to check in. She just needed gas money.”
Another request came from a single mother who relied on the school lunch program, but her child was doing distance learning.
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Venturini was looking at Facebook one day and saw a picture of Moore in a hospital bed, head bandaged, hooked up to tubes and an intravenous line
“It broke my heart,” she said. “That’s when I said, that’s what we need to do. We need to help in these instances.
“I know when there’s something that big in your life medically, there’s going to be other expenses, regardless of what insurance you have.”
Singleton, who knew Moore, called him while he was recovering. At first Moore didn’t want to take the money.
“It was overwhelming, very overwhelming,” he said. “No one ever expects to be in this situation. Giving to make someone’s day — or even that special light in a dark tunnel — is important. And I think giving just makes you feel good.”
Moore’s condition was so unique, someone from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta was called in to monitor his case. It wasn’t cancer or a tumor, just a large abscess.
He spent 12 days in Rhode Island Hospital, with rehabilitation beginning the third day after surgery. Moore had a visiting nurse for two months and admits he went back to work “a little too soon” in mid-September after the doctor gave him the green light.
On Nov. 3 he received an all-clear from his neurosurgeon.
“I’m happy he’s back to work,” Venturini said. “I’m happy that we were able to help. It feeds my soul to know that something small that we did can help out in such a big, big negative experience in someone’s life.
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“It brought back my faith in human beings. COVID’s been tough: it’s brought out the worst and the best in people. And I’m seeing the best in people when people do something like that and say, ‘I’m going to give a little bit back.’”
Singleton said many donors talk about how important the hospitality industry has been to them.
“When you celebrate a major life event — maybe it’s a wedding, maybe it’s an anniversary or somebody’s birthday — you usually do it in a restaurant,” she said. “Or you’re at a large event or graduation party, your life experiences, somehow the hospitality industry is usually involved with it.”
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Venturini said that while the height of the pandemic exacerbated the financial problems for many, the need continues, even as life gradually begins to return to normal.
“I think that this need will never go away,” she said. “I think that people have small or big needs going forward that maybe a regular paycheck can’t help. I hope this program stays around a long time, and I love the generosity of people who have given us money for the fund.”
For The Rhode Island Spotlight’s video report on this story, go to bit.ly/31MTwy1
The Rhode Island Spotlight is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that relies, in part, on donations. For more information, go to RhodeIslandSpotlight.org. Reach Jim Hummel at Jim@RhodeIslandSpotlight.org.


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