In just five days, 139 people had donated more than $8,000.
When Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently signed an order temporarily closing bars, theaters and other public spaces and limiting restaurants to delivery and carry-out orders, Ellyn Davidson of Huntington Woods immediately thought of her friends and neighbors. The order took effect March 16 and has been extended through April 30.
“I kept thinking about the fact that I could work from home and my employees can work from home — but, for restaurants, I knew it would create a situation where people were going to have to try to figure out how to feed their families and keep the lights on,” she said. “I was feeling helpless.”
Davidson is the owner of Birmingham-based Brogan & Partners, a full-service advertising agency with a mission to make a positive difference in people’s lives. True to that mission, she came up with a plan. She reached out to her neighbor, Chris Gross, who owns the Berkley Common restaurant along with Katie Kutscher and Terry Fouts. Together, they launched a Facebook fundraiser called “Supporting the Heart of Berkley, Michigan,” a fund to support all of Berkley’s bar and restaurant workers. In just five days, 139 people had donated more than $8,000. At last check, the fund was up to $11,357 and rising.
“We’re so thankful that Ellyn came up with this idea and thrilled to partner with her on it,” Gross said. “This will help mitigate the loss for some of the restaurant employees themselves.”
Gross and Davidson reached out to Berkley’s 20 dine-in restaurants, saying they would divide all proceeds evenly among the participants. Full time workers who had suddenly lost their salaries were told they could submit applications to receive the funds. The first round of checks was distributed March 27.
“It’s great that they’re doing this, and it’s good to see the community sticking together and helping people who really need it,” said Robert Weber, 33, a kitchen manager at 24 Seconds Bar & Grill. “This will give everyone a chance to just keep some sort of stability right now.”
Weber says he first started to worry when major events like the NCAA Tournament were canceled. Fans typically pack the sports bar for March Madness. By the time the governor held her press conference, he knew his livelihood was in jeopardy. 24 Seconds is still open for carry out, but amid COVID-19 concerns and the state’s stay-at-home order, businesses is slow.
“It all happened very fast and there was no time to prepare for it,” he says. “It just kind of slapped you in the face.”
Berkley Common’s usually bustling dining room is eerily quiet these days. People who order curbside carryout pull up and receive their orders in front of the building without even getting out of their cars. It’s an odd experience for the restaurant’s owners, who enjoy bringing people together.
“There’s no playbook and we’re all trying to be nimble and adapt to this situation that changes by the day,” Fouts says. “The government hasn’t done anything yet, so it’s great to see how quickly this proactive, grassroots effort came together. The community really needed it.”
If you’d like to help, you’ll find a link to donate at berkleycommon.com.