The rapid spread of COVID-19, and the social distancing measures aimed at lessening its deadly impact, have produced major economic dislocation for millions of Americans. Sectors of the food industry — particularly restaurants and bars that require social engagement to succeed, and farmers and other businesses who sell to those restaurants — have been hit especially hard.
Fortunately, efforts to alleviate at least some of the pain caused by this unprecedented crisis have produced resources from the federal, state and local governments; from businesses raising money to support dislocated workers; through creative online platforms that connect consumers to restaurants providing delivery and pickup meal options, and enable farmers hurt by market shutdowns to reach consumers through online “virtual markets;” to nonprofits that have pivoted from long-term strategic grant funding to helping people make do in the short run. (The photo above, with its powerful message, is from the website of MOSES, the Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Service.)
The biggest single tranche of money is in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which provides a total of $2 trillion to address the economic impact of the COVID crisis.
While most Americans will receive tax-free grants of $1,200 per person (under certain income levels), there are more complex provisions in the bill providing low-interest loans to small businesses and nonprofits — which will be forgiven if certain conditions, such as not laying off employees, are met. For those who do not want to wade through the stimulus law’s 880 pages of legalese, Naturally Chicago has published an analysis by our partners at SRW Agency that can be found here.
For farmers trying to parse what’s in the CARES Act for them, there is this analysis from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, the leading federal-level policy advocate for local and sustainable producers.
It was not long after the mandatory closure of bars and restaurant dining rooms that a couple of Chicago-area innovators came up with Dining at a Distance, a website that provides a directory of restaurants that have remained open to provide prepared food for delivery or curbside pickup. Just launched on March 16, it now has a list of more than 2,100 Chicago-area restaurants, and the concept has spread to 58 other U.S. cities and counties as well 11 cities overseas.
Mandates from the state of Illinois and city of Chicago restricting public gatherings — which were then followed by strict stay-at-home requirements for non-essential workers — caused farmers markets to cancel scheduled market days. But leading farmers markets in Chicago, including Green City Market, Logan Square Farmers Market, and the Plant Chicago responded quickly to create e-commerce platforms to help their vendors reach customers directly at their homes; the Chicago Farmers Market Collective includes these online markets, plus the 61st Street Market, the Loyola Market and the McKinley Park market.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of assistance programs and fundraising campaigns have sprung up across the nation to help restaurant workers who have been laid off during the crisis. One of these is very close to home for Naturally Chicago and parent organization FamilyFarmed.
A $250,000 anonymous grant is enabling major distributor US Foods and Chef Rick Bayless of Frontera fame to provide groceries to displaced food workers across Chicago. FamilyFarmed collaborated with Bayless and his team on the Frontera 30th Anniversary Party, a fundraiser held three years ago this month that benefited our organization and the Frontera Farmer Foundation. And the US Foods effort was led by Anthony Kingsley, the company’s Local and Sustainable Product Lead; he also is a member of FamilyFarmed’s Board of Directors.
The following is a list of links to other websites providing direct assistance or lists of resources for assistance. It is not comprehensive, so if there is a site not listed that you have found especially useful, please share it to email@example.com. And if you are doing good to help others and have a short story to share, send a paragraph or two to that same email address and we’ll compile and publish.
Federal government sites
U.S. Department of Agriculture: https://www.usda.gov/coronavirus
U.S. Small Business Administration Disaster Assistance: https://www.sba.gov/disaster-assistance/coronavirus-covid-19
ChiBizHub (an initiative of World Business Chicago): https://www.chibizhub.com/covid19support
City of Chicago COVID Resources: https://www.chicago.gov/city/en/sites/covid-19/home/resources.html
Illinois Restaurant Association: https://www.illinoisrestaurants.org/
National and International
James Beard Foundation Food and Beverage Industry Relief Fund: https://www.jamesbeard.org/relief
National Restaurant Association: https://restaurant.org/Covid19
Toast (company that provides computer software and hardware solutions for restaurants): https://pos.toasttab.com/blog/relief-programs-and-helpful-assets-available-during-covid-19
Restaurant Opportunities Centers United: https://rocunited.org/stop-the-spread/coronavirus-support/
Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation: https://www.restaurantworkerscf.org/covid19faq
Thrive Market COVID-19 Relief Fund: https://thrivemarket.com/blog/announcing-the-thrive-market-covid-19-relief-fund
American Farmland Trust Farmer Relief Fund: https://farmland.salsalabs.org/farmerrelieffund/index.html
Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) COVID-19 Resources for Farmers: https://mosesorganic.org/covid-farmer-resources/
NCAT/ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture: https://attra.ncat.org/are-there-financial-programs-to-help-farmers-during-the-covid-19-pandemic/