Grazie owner Matt Tatro spearheaded the idea and is participating with both his eateries, Grazie and Tres Ninos.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Going into the Thanksgiving holiday, the owners of the Freight Yard Pub knew that some people would struggle with doing an at-home celebration during the pandemic, so they put together a low-priced turkey meal to go.
Coming out of the holiday, they saw just how many people are truly struggling.
"The day of Thanksgiving, my brother Sean had gotten phone calls from people saying, 'I have a neighbor who doesn't have a holiday meal. Is there any extra turkey?' " Colleen Taylor recalled on Friday. "There were a few families who we just gave turkey dinners to.
"I don't think we've seen that level of need where people know we're closed, but they found a way to get to Sean and say, 'Is there any left over?'
"This happened right after that."
"This" is Feeding North Berkshire, an initiative of local restaurants spearheaded by Matt Taylor of Grazie on Marshall Street.
The "win-win" fund-raiser raises funds through a Gofundme campaign that will be turned into vouchers for $50 that can be redeemed at participating restaurants for a meal to feed a family of four. Donors' contributions therefore benefit both the families, who receive meals, and the restaurants, who get the money to help carry them through the difficult economic times brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The organizers already had experience with a Gofundme campaign, the spring's North Berkshire Tip Jar to benefit laid-off restaurant personnel.
"Matt called me, I think it was the day after Thanksgiving, and said, 'What do you think of this?' " Taylor said. "And we were on board. A couple of days after that, and there was a Zoom meeting and a second Zoom meeting. It was fast."
The response has been fast as well.
The campaign went live on Wednesday, and by Friday at 1 p.m., more than $9,600 had been raised from 59 different donors.
Jason Dohaney of MountainOne, who was involved in both Gofundme efforts, said he has been overwhelmed to see the response.
"We had so much success with Northern Berkshire Tip Jar, and that was shocking," Dohaney said. "Mark Gold called me on a weekend back in April, very concerned about all the servers who were out of work. We started that with a goal of $5,000, and we raised almost $50,000. It was pretty heartening to see the outreach from the community.
"This time, we have nearly $10,000 in two days of going live. … We've been so impressed with the quick response from the community."
For every $50 received, Feeding North Berkshire will issue a voucher for takeout meal for four off a pre-selected menu at the participating restaurants.
As of Friday, that list included Capitol Restaurant, Desperados (North Adams), Freight Yard Pub, Grazie, Ramunto's Brick Oven Pizza (North Adams), Renee's Diner, Trail House Kitchen and Grille, Trés Niños Taqueria and MIngo's. But Taylor and Dohaney both said they are hoping to add more North Berkshire restaurants to the fold.
Dohaney is a former president of Northern Berkshire United Way and has helped the Feeding North Berkshire decide how it would make sure the vouchers got into the right hands.
"I contacted [NBUW], and asked the best way," he said. "They pointed us in the direction of a lot of the safety net service providers … people who are doing fuel assistance and things like that."
Donors to the campaign may also designate a specific family to receive the voucher being issued for their donation. Once the donation is made, they should email the name and address of the recipient to firstname.lastname@example.org. The voucher will be sent directly to the recipient. That email also can be used to if you want to make an offline donation to Feeding North Berkshire instead of with a credit card.
To make sure all the money donated goes where it is intended, Dohaney said he, Gold and Julia Bowen are bearing the administrative costs, including paying for the vouchers to be printed by the Print Shop in Williamstown, which offered the program a reduced rate, Taylor said.
No one expects Feeding North Berkshire to end the lines at local food pantries or make restaurants whole from the losses they are incurring due to the pandemic. But it's a start.
"Over the summertime, the area's restaurants were able to sustain through these changing times, but now restaurants are having a double whammy," Taylor said. "Prices for everything are going up, whether it's food or PPE. For example, gloves for our kitchen staff were $24 per case of 1,000 [before the pandemic]. Now, it's almost $90 per case. And we have to have them. And it's hard for us to raise our prices in a pandemic.
"Then, we saw all restaurants, across the board, as soon as outdoor seating stopped, we saw a huge downturn. I think people are afraid of COVID, but also their own purses are much tighter. They don't have the disposable income to purchase meals."
Although the program is being launched during the holidays, the need is not going away any time soon. And, based on their experience, organizers believe there is enough generosity in the area to keep Feeding North Berkshire successful for months to come.
"It's truly amazing what people will do for their neighbors when they're in need," Taylor said. "We've witnessed this over and over again in our area. It is a smaller community, and we know our neighbors. I think people are going to come through again."
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