As the nation anxiously awaits the arrival of the federal government's promised stimulus checks, people continue to struggle financially and seek relief. The staff of the LGBTQ community's favorite nightspots have been amongst those hardest hit by the practice of social distancing during the pandemic, especially after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's signed an executive order requiring bars to close indefinitely to curb COVID-19's spread.
That means bar staff have been out of work now for over three weeks. Most don't qualify for traditional unemployment and the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Compensation programs Whitmer announced in Executive Order 2020-10, which would grant temporary unemployment benefits to independent contractors and employees who receive 1099s, has not yet been set up to process claims.
To help bar staff cope financially, two separate fundraising campaigns have been launched to assist the staff of Menjo's, located in Detroit and SoHo in downtown Ferndale. The SoHo campaign was launched by the bar's manager, Anatoly Ashkenazi. It has a fundraising goal of $10,000. So far nearly $9,000 has been raised.
"The spread of COVID-19 has led to extraordinary changes in our lives," said Ashkenazi. "The future is uncertain, particularly for the staff within the bar/restaurant industry. While we are usually the ones hosting a fundraiser, this time it is our turn to ask for assistance. This fund is set up to directly benefit the staff of SOHO. It is to help with the basic needs while we weather the storm."
The Menjo's GoFundMe campaign was created by David Ponsart of Al GAMEA. The group has hosted its successful quarterly event, Arabian Nights, at Menjo's for many years, but the 2020 spring edition was canceled in the wake of the coronavirus crisis. The Menjo's campaign is similarly seeking to raise $12,999 but so far has only raised less than $1,500.
"Since we were unable to hold the event we decided when the governor ordered all bars and clubs closed to shift our focus to online fundraising for the staff at Menjo's who rely on tips for a large portion of their income," Ponsart said. "They have supported us for many years, and just because we can't give back to the community in the way that we normally do, we thought we could still give back in some way."
Whatever the campaign ultimately raises, Al GAMEA will give the funds directly to Tim McKee of Menjo's to distribute.
"We pulled the GoFundMe together very quickly without much discussion about how much we would need for a group that size, so the goal we set was aggressive but also somewhat random," Ponsart said. "There are about 50 employees in total that work at Menjo's, but not all of them work at Arabian Nights. We're going to give the funds to Tim who will distribute them to the staff. Menjo's, during this crisis, has also been serving food and providing pantry staples to their staff as well as any service industry folks that are out of work right now too. This is one of the reasons that we partner with Menjo's for our event. They are as committed to giving back to the community and creating a sense of togetherness."