Pittsburghers Look Out for Their Neighbors

The helpers are out in full force.
Mr Rogers Sep16

PHOTO BY DAVE DICELLO

Each day brings a new reality and response to COVID-19. Businesses and organizations are ceasing or postponing public operations, leaving people without work and resources.

Restaurants are closed. That means chefs, servers and bartenders aren’t working. Local theaters are closed. Actors, directors and behind-the-scenes personnel aren’t working. Daycares and schools are closed, which means educators and school officials aren’t working.

The list goes on.

Worrying about what will happen to the economy is natural now that the governor has recommended all non-essential businesses close. 

But this is Pittsburgh, and the helpers are out in full force.

One GoFundMe, the PGH Artist Emergency Fund, set a $5,000 goal to assist “local artists who have lost their main source of income due to COVID-19.” 

They reached the goal in one day. 

They set a new goal of $10,000, and they reached it within another day. After the first $5,000 was reached, they were able to help the first 20 people who submitted the PGH Artists Emergency Fund form. As of March 16, 118 artists have sent requests to the fund organized by sarah huny young, Joshua Nico Orange, Julie Mallis, Aaron Clark, Clark Price and Alex Neal.

“We want to be able to support the full spectrum of workers,” from performers to venue, sound and security workers who help make performances possible, Mallis says. “This is a really good time to support our community.”

As many creative work opportunities close, Artists For Hire helps connect artists to new ones through job listings and classifieds that artists and employers can submit, as well as information on health care and other artist and freelancer resources. 

Created by Emma Vescio and maintained by a growing list of collaborators, Artists for Hire aims to create a network that looks beyond educational backgrounds and supports marginalized individuals in and out of the art field.

“Art workers pride themselves on keeping their heads down and working continuously but very often do not ask for help,” Vescio says. “This can be a resource for all and can continue to evolve during this crisis and hopefully can become a sustainable resource after.” 

Resources for students are also popping up as colleges and universities close their campuses and many students are moving out of on-campus housing. “Request/Volunteer Temporary Shelter, Transportation, Storage for Displaced Pitt Students” is a Google form created March 11 by local students Neerja Garikipati, Albert Tanjaya and Daly Trimble.

The form is open to displaced students who need a place to stay or keep their belongings, as well as volunteers who can host, store belongings or provide transportation throughout any part of the short-notice move-out process. There are also forms for students seeking spiritual and emotional aid and one for monetary aid for groceries. 

The student-led effort was “created as a response to what other student and alumni networks are doing” at schools such as Harvard, Yale and Duke, Garikipati says, with a focus on lower-income students and others “disproportionately affected” by Pitt’s safety precautions.  

Financial strains also mount as businesses and events close, but many employers large and small across all professions are taking steps to take care of their employees during cutbacks to work hours as much as possible. 

After the NHL paused all hockey games, the Pittsburgh Penguins announced it would pay all full- and part-time employees at PPG Paints Arena with funding to come from Penguins players, the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation and the Mario Lemieux Foundation. Rivers Casino also announced March 13 it will also continue payroll during the 14-day closure that started March 15. 

Employers are also adapting as the situation changes. 21st Street Coffee announced March 8 it was switching to disposable cups and offering paid sick leave to baristas, but closed March 16 in response to an Allegheny County call for non-essential businesses to close, although it will continue to pay baristas wages and tips.  

Others are trying to offset the pressure from restaurant and school closings. The Pennsylvania Department of Education received permission from the federal Department of Agriculture to allow all closed K-12 schools to serve meals offsite to students at no cost. 412 Food Rescue is offering to take any surplus food businesses may have on hand due to a sudden shutdown.

“We have to start treating people with respect and dignity, operate with an assumption of trust. Or, at least — model it,” Orange, one of the PGH Artist Emergency Fund organizers, says. “Culture matters, and here we have an opportunity to improve ours.”

Categories: The 412