In Chicago and other cities across the country, Latino workers are the backbone of the restaurant industry, and the pandemic has had a disproportionate effect on the physical, emotional, and financial health of restaurant workers.
Three years ago, a group of hospitality workers created a nonprofit aimed at connecting struggling hospitality workers with mental health care. The founders of Support Staff, both of whom are experienced in the hospitality industry, say they’re filling a need that has gone unaddressed for too long.
“I think this is an industry where people take better care of their guests than they do themselves,” says co-founder Kristina Magro. “You can have the majority of folks be great to you, but it's those 10% of negative experiences that over a year, five years, 10 years really kind of gets to you.”
“So many times we're told it doesn't matter what you're going through in your life, leave it at the door when you come in, you just have to put your face on,” adds co-founder Mony Bunni. “That takes a toll on your emotions.”
They started Support Staff in 2018 with mental health as their primary focus. Workers seeking mental health care can apply for a consultation with their director of therapeutic services, who will then help connect the worker with affordable therapy resources.
The organization also hosts two podcasts, including a series called “Bite Size.”
“That is a mini psycho educational series that breaks down, like, what is mental health, what's emotional labor, stress, coping mechanisms, things like that,” said Bunni.
When the pandemic wrought havoc in the restaurant industry, they launched the Comp Tab Relief Fund to offer direct cash support to workers in need.
“A lot of people were out there risking their lives without health insurance and then on top of it, not [getting] the proper care or the long hours or [being] dehumanized by the general public,” said Magro.
They also opened a storefront in Humboldt Park called People/Profit offering free clothing, food, and other resources for anyone who needs it.
“People Over Profit addresses some of these things that do affect your mental health, and that is your livelihood, that is your clothing, that is your food. We're just trying to pull together the resources that we have to kind of alleviate some of these stresses.”
“What 2020 really exposed is that we need to have each other's backs,” said Bunni. “We need to be taking care of each other.”