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New Fundraiser Aims To Aid Pittsburgh's Nightlife Workers

Megan Harris
90.5 WESA
Jack's bar on the South Side after coronavirus shutdown advisories.

A year ago, the pandemic shutdown of live-performance venues, and the halting of dine-in service at bars and restaurants, was followed immediately by crowd-funded efforts to support folks such public-health measures had cost work.

For many in the nightlife and hospitality industries, unemployment and other forms of government relief kicked in, too. But the impact on those industries was so widespread and long-lasting that ever more help has been needed. In December, for instance, the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Urban and Social Research estimated the pandemic had claimed 31,000 jobs in local restaurants alone.  Amidst the tightening and loosening of government restrictions, some bars and restaurants have closed for good, and many of those that remain are still struggling to recover.

Meanwhile, concert halls remain dark almost entirely, with no clear sense when they’ll be able to operate at high enough capacity to make it economically feasible.

The latest Pittsburgh-area initiative to help the hospitality industry’s unemployed and underemployed is Night Life Line. The project, announced Monday, aims to raise $250,000 to distribute as grants of up to $500 to people in need in Allegheny County.

“We wanted to create a fund that those who really need the funds themselves right now can just have access to it,” said Taylor Stessney, a former bartender who was laid off when the pandemic began. Stessney now works for the Restaurant Opportunity Center, an advocacy group for restaurant employees  whose Pennsylvania chapter is among the collaborators on Night Life Line.

Other collaborators include the group Pittsburgh Restaurant Workers Aid, which crowdfunded $60,000 last year; the Pittsburgh chapter of the National Independent Venue Association; the Pittsburgh chapter of the U.S. Bartenders Guild; and state Rep. Sara Innamorato.

The Night Life Line fund is administered by The Giving Back Fund, a nonprofit that operates nationally. But Stessney said Night Life Line is Pittsburgh-centric – as well as distinct from government programs set up to help business-owners directly.

“This is a relief fund for workers by workers,” she said.

Any hospitality worker in Allegheny County is eligible, from servers to concert-hall workers. Grants will be awarded by a panel based on need, said Stessney.

Night Life Line is already accepting donations from the public. Donations are tax-deductible.

For more information, see the group’s website.

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Bill is a long-time Pittsburgh-based journalist specializing in the arts and the environment. Previous to working at WESA, he spent 21 years at the weekly Pittsburgh City Paper, the last 14 as Arts & Entertainment editor. He is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and in 30-plus years as a journalist has freelanced for publications including In Pittsburgh, The Nation, E: The Environmental Magazine, American Theatre, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Bill has earned numerous Golden Quill awards from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania. He lives in the neighborhood of Manchester, and he once milked a goat. Email: