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Grassroots efforts aid service industry workers in the LOU

By Anna Margaret Foster | Special to the EAGLE 

As the COVID-19 virus rapidly spreads, individuals across the world have seen their lives flipped upside down in the blink of an eye.  

Jenna Mason, freelance digital editor for the Southern Foodways Alliance at the University of Mississippi and former service industry worker at Proud Larry’s, SoLa and St. Leo in Oxford, created the Oxford Hospitality Posse Facebook page in September 2019, as a way for members to share information and local resources with service industry workers. 

“Oxford’s service industry is the beating heart of our Mississippi town,” Mason said. “We are a tightly knit group of folks who love offering hospitality to locals and visitors alike. We take care of each other in times of need and celebrate together in times of joy. This group is designed to be a positive space for folks in the industry here, past or present, and for people who want to support service industry employees.” 

The Oxford Hospitality Posse Facebook page provides industry workers with information on where to get meals and resources locally, discusses the process of filing for unemployment and shares local job posts that may help bridge the gap while many individuals are out of work.  

According to Mason, several local organizations are on the front lines of helping service industry workers during this time. Move on Up, Mississippi and United Way of Oxford are providing meals and relief to industry workers, and Dodo Pizza Oxford is also collecting donations of food, hygiene and baby care items specifically for service industry employees. 

Alena Tikhova, the owner of Dodo Pizza Oxford, created the Restaurant Workers Relief Center to support local service industry workers who have been laid off due to business closure or a significant drop in revenues. 

“Our goal is to provide hot meals, toiletries, cleaning supplies, diapers, personal hygiene items and more to those who need it the most right now,” Tikhova said. 

In a Facebook Q&A for Southern Foodways Alliance hosted by John T. Edge, Edge spoke with Joe Stinchcomb, bar manager at St. Leo and St. Leo Lounge, about the future of the restaurant industry in a post-COVID-19 world. 

Stinchcomb emphasized that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging for every individual in the service industry. During this time, Stinchcomb said he is seeking to ensure high spirits in his colleagues at St. Leo, whom he mentioned received their last paychecks from the restaurant on March 27. 

“This is kind of a bittersweet moment,” Stinchcomb said. “It is exciting to catch up with friends and see colleagues, but at the same time, it is sobering to give someone their last paycheck in this environment and atmosphere,” he said. “We are just trying to keep our spirits lifted, which is a difficult thing to do right now when no one knows when we are going to be able to go back to work, if at all, and how this is going to impact business and overall affect the town.” 

St. Leo and St. Leo Lounge has begun a fund to aid employees after checks end and is working with the local restaurant community to find common purpose and lend aid to service industry workers who are genuinely in need.

 A website has also been created, where individuals can directly donate to local industry workers via Cash App or Venmo. To access the website, visit https://serviceindustry.tips/en/ms/oxford.

The Restaurant Workers Relief Center in Oxford is open from 4 to 9 p.m. daily to assist laid-off service industry workers of all local restaurants. Those who are able are welcome to donate non-perishable food, various hygiene items, baby care products such as diapers and formula, and monetary donations can be dropped off on the porch of DoDo Pizza Oxford at 614 Jackson Ave. East at any time of the day. 

“This is one of the bright spots in this very bleak time, to see local restaurants coming together as a family,” Stinchcomb said.