SAN DIEGO — COVID-19 has hit workers in the restaurant and hospitality industry especially hard. In this Zevely Zone, I went to Mission Bay where the non-profit organization Big Table is helping a mother of six in her time of need.
"I saw him struggling to breathe," said Silvia Lemus. In April, Silvia and her husband Luis contracted COVID-19. "He went through so much, so much," said Silvia. She recovered quickly but Luis was put on a ventilator in a hospital's intensive care unit. He fought for 63 days. "He was trying he was trying to push himself forward," said Silvia with a tear running down her face.
Luis passed away on June 30th leaving Silvia and their six children behind. "It's really hard. My little ones ask for their daddy a lot and it's hard to give them answers," said Silvia.
She is a barista at the Hyatt Regency in Mission Bay. Silvia had never heard of the non-profit group Big Table and certainly didn't them to call and offer help. "What did that mean to you?" I asked. Silvia said, "I was like why? For what?"
Big Table is a faith-based non-profit that supports restaurant and hospitality workers in crisis. Founded in 2009 in Washington State, Big Table expanded to San Diego in 2019 and operates on an innovative referral model providing no-strings-attached assistance to help with any critical need: medical, dental, mental health care, childcare assistance, food, housing or transportation.
"It meant the world to me. To say that this position and this role is rewarding is an understatement," said Jesse Vigil who heads Big Table in San Diego. Big Table helped Silvia with her rent, groceries and even gifts of comfort for her kids. "She has still got to go to work every day. She has till go to provide for her children. She has still got to keep going," said Jesse.
Chad Eding the Hyatt Regency Mission Bay general manager says his staff is inspired by Silvia's spirit. "I think she is happy to be back to work and we are happy to have her back, her friends in the market are happy to have her back there," said Chad.
Big Table just launched in San Diego last year never dreaming tens of thousands of people in the hospitality industry would need assistance so soon.
According to the American Hotel Lodging Association (AHLA), at the peak of the pandemic 7.5 million hospitality and leisure jobs in the U.S. were lost, and 4 out of 10 hotel employees are still not working. The National Restaurant Association (NRA) reports as much damage on the restaurant front with 8 million losing their jobs initially. The unemployment rate across the industry is still 38% compared to national average of 10.2%.
Big Table has provided care to 598 San Diego restaurant and hospitality workers—nearly nine times more than in 2019, the year it began local services. One of those people is Silvia who wants for you to remember her Luis. "He was a very happy funny. He was very loved by a lot of people. He would always make everyone laugh, he was a very nice person," said Silvia.
Big Table's innovative referral model ensures that care is personal and compassionate, eliminating the obstacle and, for some, the humiliation of having to ask for help, while enabling care providers to address each person's individual needs.
During Silvia's time of need, she picked up the phone and heard these words. "What do you need? They are wonderful people. Big Table, all of them are amazing people," said Silvia.
If you'd like to help someone in the hospitality industry, Big Table is asking for donations on Giving Tuesday. If you'd like to help click here.