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Serving NM fund offers grants of $250

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FARMINGTON — An Albuquerque organization that represents and promotes the food service industry throughout New Mexico is seeking donations for a fund that is being used to help ease the financial burden of industry workers who have been laid off or had their hours slashed because of the coronavirus pandemic shutdown.

The New Mexico Restaurant Association's Serving NM fund offers help to restaurant and other hospitality workers who are facing economic hardship because of the way the pandemic has impacted their industry. NMRA executive director Carol Wight said the fund was initiated last year, but essentially had been dormant until recently when an urgent need for it developed.

The fund provides small emergency grants to restaurant or hospitality industry employees who have been impacted by the situation. The money can be used for such purposes as unforeseen medical or dental bills, funeral expenses for immediate family members, auto repairs, rent or mortgage payments, utility bills, veterinarian bills or day care.

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The fund was seeded by a $10,000 donation by the Greater Santa Fe Restaurant Association, but Wight said more funding is badly needed.

She said her organization is doing what it can to seek donations, but the NMRA deals mostly with its own members, not the public, and she said most restaurant operators are not well positioned to contribute to the effort under these circumstances.

"We're kind of talking in a vacuum to restaurant owners," she said. "They're less than capable of giving right now. What we're really looking at are people on the outside. I have a lot of friends calling me and saying, 'What can I do? I love such-and-such restaurant.' Going to this fund is one of the things you can do."

Visitors to the NMRA website, nmrestaurants.org, can follow the drop-down menu under the "About NMRA" header and find a page devoted to the Serving NM fund. There is an "Individuals can donate here" link, and donors can contribute through PayPal or with a debit or credit card. The money is administered through the Hospitality Industry Education Fund, a nonprofit charitable organization.

That last distinction is important, Wight said, explaining that she is aware that several people or organizations have started similar financial assistance efforts through online fundraising platforms.

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"With this account, you know your funds are going to go to someone in the industry," she said. "With those others, you don't know that for a fact."

Wight said the NMRA is eager to begin helping struggling workers and this week awarded grants to the program's first two applicants.

"So far, we've given them each $250, and both of them were very thankful," she said. "They have situations that would just break your heart."

But Wight acknowledged the organization has a long way to go to meet its fundraising drive of $100,000.

"We've been trying to build the fund before we try to send it out to workers," she said. "If we have 60 employees apply for this fund, that wipes it out. We've been trying to get money in before we push money out."

Wight is counting on individual donors to step up and meet that need, but she said she doesn't know if the fund with meet its $100,000 goal.

"I'm hopefully optimistic," she said. "I think people want to give to a fund like this but haven't heard about it. I'm hopeful once they find it, they will give to it."

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Wight noted the severe impact the shutdown has had on the restaurant industry, citing figures from the National Restaurant Association that indicate that 3 percent of American restaurants already have permanently ceased operations. She fears that number will go up, displacing even more workers.

"I think people are really looking for a way to help us," she said. "And I would say to them, 'These people have served you for many years.' This is available for (workers) to get back on their feet through this hardship."

Industry workers who have lost their job or had their hours cut can apply for a grant by following the link at the bottom of the Serving NM page on the NMRA website. For more information, call the organization at 505-343-9848.

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The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday approved a $2.2 trillion aid package. It is the largest in history according to reports at Reuters. The package is to help cope with the economic downturn inflicted by the intensifying coronavirus pandemic. The massive bill passed the Senate and House of Representatives nearly unanimously. The rare bipartisan action underscored how serious the global pandemic is. As Americans suffer, the medical system threatens to buckle, and the cases grow hourly. The US has the most confirmed cases of Coronavirus in the world and has not tested many citizens. Wochit

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription: http://bit.ly/216TU0e

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