Economic hardship in the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted families across the globe. The restaurant industry has been hit particularly hard. At the onset of this crisis, chefs, servers and other restaurant staff were either unemployed, furloughed or working fewer hours. People across the country have stepped up in their communities to support restaurants and their employees during the pandemic through donations, free meals and other services.
Assurant employees like Andy Jung are giving back to the community. Andy is a human resource analyst in Assurant’s New York City office and he recently made efforts to support restaurants and other essential workers during this pandemic. He had been looking forward to an early March vacation with friends to California’s Pacific Coastal Highway. But he decided to cancel his plans to avoid risking exposure to the virus. Instead, he and his friends used that vacation time to help raise funds — and more — for restaurant workers in his community, crowdfunding about $8,000 in the first week.
Inspired by his volunteerism, we interviewed Andy to learn more about his efforts to crowdfund for the community and bring positivity to places he cares about.
What influence you to support restaurants in your community?
Andy: After I canceled my vacation plans, I started reconnecting with an old friend who is a general manager at a restaurant in New York. He shared with me how [the pandemic] was beginning to impact the restaurant industry. There were some people in his organization who weren’t eligible for the government benefits, and he was really upset about it.
As I was driving back home, thinking about the situation, I called him and said, “Hey! I really want to help you out.” I told him I believed that we could raise a substantial amount of money by reaching out to our church and other networks.
Over the next couple of days, I shared my vision for the project, and we thought things through. We planned the steps of engaging with people, building trust and how to handle any conflicts.
Can you give us a little more detail on what you provided for these individuals?
Andy: It was kind of a grassroots, word-of-mouth effort. We reached out to our personal networks, social media, close friends and church for donations. There was a lot of outreach and community fundraising based solely on people that we personally knew, and it just grew from there, with more and more people getting involved. People I hadn’t seen in years would donate $100, then $300 and even $800. We started getting all these donations just by sharing the restaurant’s story. We also reached out to other restaurant owners who had workers in similar situations and asked them to join the cause.
So I think we raised about $8,000 in the first week just by word of mouth alone. This was enough to provide eight employees with at least one month of rent.
That’s truly amazing. Were there any roadblocks you encountered while trying to fundraise?
Andy: Well, the major roadblock my friend and I encountered was actually trying to work together on this effort. We’re two very different people. I’m used to brainstorming and planning together upfront and he’s more of a “go with the flow” type of person. So I think our approach to work is where we clashed a lot. I was just trying to flesh a lot of things out and he’d want to keep things very simple.
What helped was talking through things and staying focused on our mission instead of our differences. It took a while — but, ultimately, I think because our goals were aligned and it was about helping people, we were able to work together peacefully.
As you might know, Assurant provides eight hours of paid time annually for employees to volunteer with organizations that matter to them personally and it can be tracked on the Assurant Cares portal.* Did you take advantage of any of the employee volunteer benefits, like paid volunteer hours or donation matching? Or did you do this on your own vacation time?
Andy: I actually forgot about the volunteer days until my manager told me to use them. He's the one who actually encouraged me to use my volunteer days. I ended up using some paid volunteer hours to work on this, and I also took advantage of the Assurant Foundation Matching Gifts program.
“Were you able to see the impact that your volunteerism had on those eight restaurant employees?
Andy: Yes! We were able to visit them and share our story. This wasn’t at the peak of the pandemic, but we brought them protective equipment and maintained social distancing during our visit. They didn’t know who we were or why we wanted to help out. But we got to talk with the people, meet their families and really get to know them. It was a pretty cool experience. At the end, we all got together in a circle and as cheesy as it sounds, we prayed for each other and I think that was that was a very uplifting and positive moment.
Reaching out for Restaurants: Crowdfunding for Communities
When Andy heard about the plight of the restaurant staff and their families, he was inspired to make a difference in his community, and it made an impact. Through his efforts, he used his vacation time and resources to raise more than $8,000 to support the unemployed restaurant staff.
*Our Assurant Cares portal enables employees to track their volunteer hours, request matching gifts, make payroll deductions to charitable organizations and more. This platform provides access for all our global employees to engage in their communities and support causes that matter to them. Assurant provides employees with eight hours of paid volunteer time per year. Through the Matching Gifts program, Assurant employees can request a dollar-for-dollar match of their personal contributions to qualifying charitable organizations. The Assurant Foundation matches up to $1,000 USD annually in contributions for every employee of the company.