Restaurant workers reflect on how COVID has impacted jobs, forged community

Pittsburgh Restaurant Workers Aid volunteer Molly Dilts carries a delivery box from the organization’s distribution center in Bloomfield. The group, which formed during the COVID-19 pandemic, provides groceries as well as supplies such as diapers and pet food to more than 100 restaurant industry families in the Pittsburgh region. (Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource)

by Ryan Loew, PublicSource

David Kost considers himself one of the lucky ones.

As the COVID-19 pandemic upended life two years ago this month, Kost didn’t lose work for an extended period of time. To his knowledge, he never caught the virus. From what he’s heard in the close-knit community of Pittsburgh’s bar and restaurant workers, that’s atypical.

“It’s been very, very tough,” said Kost, 44, who works as a bartender and service manager at Scratch & Co. in Troy Hill.

“For a lot of people in the service industry, if you don’t go to work, you don’t get paid,” he said. “If you don’t get paid, you can’t pay your bills.”

The pandemic proved to be a tumultuous time for workers across the board, but for bar and restaurant employees, it’s been uniquely challenging. Many restaurant workers were already facing low wages and unpredictable hours, and food workers faced some of the highest risks of death during the pandemic. 

In response, many Pittsburgh bar and restaurant workers have found ways to help each other, and some have noted seeing their industry change in positive ways in response to the pandemic’s historic upheaval.

A grassroots safety net

In March 2020, as many bar and restaurant workers found themselves without jobs and in need of help, Kacy McGill and Taylor Stessney started Pittsburgh Restaurant Workers Aid [PRWA]. Initially a Facebook group helping connect bar and restaurant workers to resources and financial assistance to help pay bills, the group grew into a food distribution operation that was first run from McGill’s front porch. It now occupies a storefront on Liberty Avenue in Bloomfield. 

The nonprofit group currently provides food, diapers, feminine hygiene products and other items such as pet food and cleaning supplies to more than 100 families per week across the Pittsburgh region. That number reached as high as 200 families in May 2020, McGill said.


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