This is going to be a particularly important weekend for the Australian state of Victoria and subsequently for its hospitality workers.
While most of the country is cautiously opening its doors the southern state, and in particular it’s capital Melbourne, has been facing a surge of new coronavirus cases.
In response, bars and other hospitality venues have gone back into lockdown and more and more people are again looking to charity organisations like COVID19ead for help.
Founded by two Melbourne bar owners, Jason Chan (from Hats & Tatts) & Henry Le (from Ends & Means), COVID19ead started shortly after the first nationwide lockdown began at the beginning of April. Their aim was to help out the visa holders, students and young people who are either casual or seasonal workers and are not eligible for government assistance.
Since the crisis started, the group has been mainly staffed by volunteers, who have made, packaged and driven thousands of meals to unemployed hospo workers in need. Le says that at the height of the lockdown the group was serving around 600 people a week.
When Melbourne started to open up at the beginning of June, the numbers of people who needed their help slowly started to decrease. But a month and a half later, with this second round of lockdown coming into effect, the need for their services has grown again. “We’ve had about 200-300 people sign up in the last seven days,” said Le.
“After the initial lockdown period, we had stabilised to helping out about 300 to 400 people per week,” he continued, “now it looks like it’s going to be about 650 maybe even 700 this week. It’s getting pretty dark again.”
When Le and Chan first started the group, it was solely intended to help out a few close friends. With a kitchen at their disposal, supplies and a handful of volunteers, what had started small, then quickly expanded as the need grew.
Le explains that the recent increase in numbers directly correlates to the number of people who have again lost their jobs. “I’m not sure how the switch between being employed and now having to go back to JobSeeker actually works,” he said, “but I think a lot of people are seeing us as the first port of call.
“We are that backstop for the industry, so people are thinking that if they sign up to COVID19ead, they’ll get some meals, they’ll get a grocery box and that will help them through the next week or so while trying to figure out what they’re going to do next.”
The increased numbers have of course resulted in an increase of the funds they need to keep going. Initially, these were provided by the group’s GoFundMe page, which had the support of friends, family and the industry. At that stage, as Le points out, “It was difficult to pursue corporate sponsorships because we didn’t have the ability to issue tax-deductible receipts.”
Although the group do now have the ability through a third party to issue receipts, it is the other forms of assistance that he thinks are the most important at this stage. This is not to say. that Le hasn’t spent the last two weeks “drumming up some budget donations from corporate,” but more that there is an increase in other needs, aside from food, that the industry is facing.
Since Melbourne has entered its second lockdown, Melbourne residents have been reaching out to mental health services for support in record numbers. In an industry plagued by anti-social hours, substance abuse and depression, Le believes that the services that some of the larger liquor brands have made available to the industry are now more important than ever.
“Our case managers are mainly volunteers, so they are not trained or equipped to assist with financial, legal or counselling issues, so we’ve been really grateful for the access to those sort of assistance programmes. It’s just about getting support to where it needs to go.
“How people are coping with being isolated from their friends and family again, much less how they are dealing with being unable to get back into that routine again is important. That’s going to be the biggest issue that I’m going to be focusing on, how to get people to stay connected to some degree.”
Although Le believes that the reinstatement of lockdowns didn’t come as a surprise due to the number of cases increasing day-by-day in the state, he feels that it was the speed of that turn around between closed, open and then closed again that has hit the industry so hard.
“I know a lot of venues were doing a very careful, staged approach to re-opening and were in the process of getting more people on board to help with contact tracing. And then going into lockdown, a week after a lot of those commitments were made, really pulled the rug out from under a lot of people.
“I think that in Melbourne we understand … at least to a large degree, we understand why it needs to happen. It sucks. It really does. But unfortunately, the public health crisis is greater than our need to trade, but still, it didn’t give businesses much time to plan what would happen with staff.”
Although Victoria’s state government has indicated that this second lockdown will last for six weeks, Le believes that it could realistically last a lot longer than that. “Six weeks has been set as the evaluation point,” he explains. “Six weeks is a long time, so maybe it’ll be long enough for us to get things under control but then some people have been talking about the possibility that we could even go into stage four restrictions. Things are changing so rapidly every day, that it’s simply too hard to predict.”
To keep the wheels turning, COVID19ead continues to need your support, if you can donate, please go to covid19ead.com.au