The Toronto Restaurant Workers Relief Fund (TRWRF) has been providing money in the form of gift cards since April. CJRU spoke with their co-founder Arianne Persaud about the early days of the fund, how their gift card system contributes to the local economy, and their new mental health and wellness stream.
Persaud says that the initial donors to TRWRF were regulars at some of the most expensive restaurants in Toronto. A week into the March lockdown, they were asking Persaud how they could support restaurant workers that were out of work. After some online searches, Persaud decided to co-found TRWRF with their partner when it became apparent that this type of relief did not exist. They wanted to distribute funds in the form of grocery gift cards but grocery stores and grocery delivery companies were completely overwhelmed at the start of the pandemic. Luckily, they connected with a local farmer who was starting up a virtual farmers market.
In an effort to bring farmers and their existing farmer’s markets into a virtual space, Green Circle Food Hub was created. Persaud says there’s a wide variety ranging from produce to pre prepared meals, alcohol and much more. With this new partnership, Persaud was able to get TRWRF off the ground and began distributing $225 gift cards. As some TRWRF recipients returned to their restaurant jobs or found new employment, they became donors. While TRWRF launched with contributions of wealthy restaurant patrons, their current donors are more often restaurant workers that are redistributing their wealth.
“A lot of folks used to fund, got called back to work, and donated back into it - we saw that a lot...It ended up being like a mutual aid community fund. Because it’s other food people and restaurant ppl, groceries, bakeries that have seen an increase in business or haven’t lost as much, those are the people that are donating. It’s really great because it's within our local food system that the relief is coming. And everytime we get that money, we put it back into the virtual farmers market,” Persaud says.
While this was heartwarming to see, Persaud adds that they wanted to keep the funds available to whoever needed. With this in mind, they changed the eligibility so recipients can continue receiving funds if they found employment again.
Persaud says the grocery gift card system has been going well since April so now they’re turning their attention to others needs of the community. TRWRF recently expanded with their mental health and wellness program, in collaboration with The Centre for Anti-Oppressive Communication. Everyone is able to apply for groceries, but the new program is designed for current and former restaurant workers who identify as Black, Indigenous, people of colour, women, queer, non-binary or trans. Through this stream, gift cards for individual therapy are redeemable at The Centre for Anti-Oppressive Communication.
The gift card system at TRWRF creates an impact every step of the way, one gift card at a time. First, it supports the local economy through working with a virtual farmer’s market and The Centre for Anti-Oppressive Communication, and then it makes those businesses accessible to current and former restaurant workers.
To learn more, donate, or apply to TRWRF click here
To hear more from Arianne Persaud, listen to the interview below.