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Shannon Lynnette, from left, Jenny Mann, Derek Marso, Johnny Castillo are part of the collaboration between the In the Weeds Hospitality Aid Group and Valley Farm Market in Spring Valley. Photo by Patrick Samokhvalof of Valley Farm Market
Cheers! North CountyColumns

Cheers! North County: In the Weeds? This group is here to help

You’d have to have been under a rock for the past nine months to be unaware that the pandemic and business restrictions have wreaked havoc on the hospitality industry. According to the National Restaurant Association, 1 in 6 restaurants will close or has already closed nationwide. I recently saw an unofficial list of San Diego area breweries and restaurants that have already closed permanently had nearly 100 names on it.

Less obvious might be how many workers that really impacts. Every hospitality business, be it a dive bar or chain of brewpubs, has waves of employees coming in and out. Cleaning crews, kitchen staff, prep employees, servers, bartenders and so on. There are delivery drivers, window cleaners, cooler repairpersons and just so many more.

At the Pacific Beach BBQ joint I managed, we had about 35 employees at any given time and dozens of vendors employing many more. Even when businesses have been able to open for dining in 2020 — outdoors or partially indoors or takeaway only — the number of employees needed to work each day has been cut drastically, leaving a lot of hospitality workers out of work, with less work and fewer protections than the typical nine-to-five.

Want to help or need a hand? Join the In the Weeds Hospitality Aid Group.

Shannon Lynnette, 20-plus year industry veteran and manager of the Tasting Room and Hospitality at Burning Beard Brewing Company in El Cajon saw so many of her industry friends and colleagues struggling. In her words, “hanging by a very tenuous thread, and wavering in financial peril.”

She decided to get proactive. She started an event on social media for hospitality and hospitality adjacent employees called In the Weeds, soliciting basic-needs donations and thinking she probably wasn’t alone in wanting to help. The response was so great it has grown into the In the Weeds Facebook Group offering support to those in need.

According to Shannon, the aim is simple: “If you are in this industry and your income has been affected by the multiple closures, bring me a bag and I will fill it up with what I’ve been able to amass. Essentially, if you are in need and I can help — I will.” If giving is noble, this commonsense simplicity to Shannon’s efforts make it doubly so.

These things don’t happen alone. Thorn Brewing has become a pickup, drop-off and delivery contributor. When asked why they wanted to be involved, Thorn’s Tom Kiely replied, “Most hospitality businesses have been closed or barely open for nine months. That’s not just detrimental to the businesses, but the people too. Sustained unemployment breeds food insecurity. Many friends and colleagues aren’t sure where their next meal is coming from, and Shannon wanted to do something about it. …

“Thorn and Burning Beard have done lots of events together in the past, so she hit us up to help. We have tasting rooms in North Park and Barrio Logan plus a robust county-wide home delivery program so we could help out with logistics.”

Jen Mann (aka @MsBeerCraft), a local photographer, has been using her extensive network to make connections to help with donations, and bring attention to this community support effort.

“The real special thing about this program is that it’s friends helping friends,” she said. “We must understand that there are all different levels of what someone might need during these tough times. For some, it might be a meal, and for others, it might be meals.

“For some, it could be finding out how or where to get health assistance or free/low-cost mental wellness help. Even sharing how to make a recipe that could stretch during these times, or tips on where to buy inexpensive diapers, [or find] restaurants offering free kids meals, or pharmacy gift cards to pay for a prescription.”

In the Weeds Hospitality Aid group just partnered with Valley Farm Market in Spring Valley to provide 250-holiday meals this week. They’ve set up a drive-through pickup on Dec. 23 from noon to 5 p.m. at Burning Beard. Sign up on the Valley Farms homepage. Meals will be distributed first-come, first-served to sign-ups, and you can pick them up for yourself, a friend or a community member in need.

The need for aid won’t be going away while the pandemic is still raging. Even with a vaccine on the horizon so many hospitality jobs have already been lost, and with the current shutdown likely to last well into 2021 there are a lot of people in the industry who could use a helping hand.

In the Weeds Hospitality Aid is doing what they can to ease the struggle by offering discreet donations of food and basic supplies. If there is something you need, Shannon hopes you’ll ask, and they’ll try to find it. You don’t need to be an industry member to join the group or ask for help. Just someone who might need an extra hand for the moment (If you are in need of a bag of food and toiletries, place your order here).

The hospitality industry is fiercely supportive of each other. I’ve spent almost my entire life involved in it somehow, and this show of community is one of the reasons so many of us find ourselves working in service even years after we thought we’d left for good!

For my friends, family and colleagues in the hospitality industry I hope this column finds you happy, healthy and comfortable this holiday season, but if you are in need know that there are those reaching out a helping hand.

Shannon left me with these words to share with you: “You’re not alone. You don’t have to go through this alone. Let’s get you out of the weeds. Be well my friends, and most importantly, be kind.”

If you would like to support the In the Weeds Hospitality Aid effort, it’s currently accepting:

  • Gift card donations to grocery, pharmacy, gas or big box stores and online retailers.
  • Nonperishable accepted anytime
  • Perishable requested for Tuesday delivery only
  • Household cleaners
  • Toiletries

They are also accepting cash donations to disperse to local hospitality workers in need and have created a donation link through the Thorn online store. If you’d like to volunteer for future pickup events, ask questions, or request or provide a donation, reach out directly to Shannon at [email protected] or ask to join the private In the Weeds Facebook Group.

Be sure to check out the most recent episode of the Cheers! North County podcast featuring appearances by Elle French from local tequila company Cosa Salvaje, and stay tuned because Season 3 starts on New Year’s Day with a very special, very tired guest.

Don’t forget to follow Cheers! North County on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Got an interesting story about your drinking adventures? Reach out! I want to hear it.

For someone in need to order a bag of food for delivery: