Hook Hall, a large bar in northwest Washington D.C., has transformed into a relief center to feed laid-off service workers in the wake of the Wuhan virus that has forced District restaurants and bars to shut down.
On Monday, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser ordered all food establishments to close or limit to carry-out services to prevent the spread of the virus. The directive has landed thousands of service workers suddenly out of a job who were already suffering lower wages as panic over the outbreak deterred people from dining in the days leading up to Bowser’s decision.
To ease the blow of unexpected unemployment, the large event space has begun providing “Hook Hall Care Kits” with food and essentials donated by restaurants or food suppliers to those in the industry. Each care package includes a bundle of non-perishable food items and supplies that have become tough to find in stores, such as toilet paper. Every bag even contains a few servings of hot tea.
Affected individuals may also pick up fresh-made meals that have been cooked by area chefs using left-over food that would have otherwise gone bad or supplies that have been donated to Hook Hall. Maggiano’s Little Italy donated 1,000 packages of lasagna and has promised two more rounds of donations, including meals of salmon with asparagus and spaghetti.
In the back of the establishment, a large refrigerator truck sits packed with items such as eggs, chicken, and beef that area chefs have come to pick up to cook the meals. Jamie Leeds, the owner of Hank’s Oyster Bar, even donated 3,000 oysters waiting to be cooked up. Anyone hoping to help can sign up here.
Keeping compliant with restrictions on public gatherings, the center only allows a few people inside at a time to pick up their items.
“Getting toiletries for the kits has been more difficult than we imagined. Just because supplies are running out at the distribution level,” said Hook Hall’s owner running the operation, Anna Valero.
To fund the effort, Hook Hall has teamed up with the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington to create the Worker’s Relief Fund that has raised more than $50,000 since Monday. While that might seem like a lot at first glimpse, Valero stressed that it’s still not enough to keep the effort up and running for as long as the pandemic might last, which could be months. So far the center has already served more than 1,000 people.
“This isn’t over in a week,” said Valero, noting that she doesn’t expect the bar to be open for business-as-usual for another 90 days. “We are trying to raise as many dollars as possible so that we can sustain the efforts for the foreseeable future.”
Some in the business remain optimistic that the extreme social distancing measures damaging the hospitality business will end soon.
Cecile Blot used to work at a bar in Chinatown part-time while operating a travel consulting business on the side that has also taken a hit. Her husband worked in the service industry as a chef. While Blot’s unemployment from her bartending job is temporary, “God willing,” she says, her husband’s became permanent when the restaurant decided to close its doors for good, raising further uncertainty.
While picking up her items, Blot said she was hopeful that the outbreak would blow over relatively soon.
“I think it has to be,” Blot said. “This is going to destroy so many people and so many things larger than just me. I think that people are going to want to get back to work… I’m hoping that whatever we’re waiting for to tell us to go back to work happens. I don’t know what that arbitrary thing is or what number we’re looking for, but I’m optimistic.”