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Hospitality Worker Relief Program Coming to Crystal City

Hook Hall Helps, a D.C.-based relief program aimed at helping hospitality industry workers, is coming to Crystal City.

First started in March 2020 in response to the pandemic, the program provides meal kits to those in the local hospitality industry impacted by layoffs, hours reductions, mandatory shutdowns, and capacity restrictions.

In addition to its original D.C. location, the program will also now distribute kits from The Freshman, the yet-to-open cafe at 2011 Crystal Drive.

“Northwest D.C. is not the easiest place to get to for everyone,” Hook Hall Helps founder Anna Valero, who also owns the bar and event space Hook Hall, tells ARLnow. “What was important to us in choosing to expand to another location was accessibility. The hope is being able to provide and meet people more where they are.”

Meal kit distribution is happening every Thursday from 3-5 p.m., starting this week, “while there’s a need,” says Valero.

What made The Freshman attractive as the program’s second outpost is that it is on different Metro and bus lines as Hook Hall, while providing more parking. Plus, Valero says, restaurant owner Nick Freshman’s “values aligned, he’s a fantastic individual in the hospitality community, and he generously offered his space.”

Despite announcing its opening nearly two years ago, The Freshman has yet to open due to the pandemic. Nick Freshman is also a co-owner of Clarendon’s Spider Kelly’s.

The meal kits are made up of three ready-made meals and a “supply” kit with canned soup, granola bars, fruit, toilet paper, and feminine hygiene products.

The kits are being crafted by Valero and a rotating list of local restaurants, including nearby Indian eatery Rasa. Beyond providing meals, the program also helps restaurateurs keep staff employed.

From last March to the end of June, Hook Hall was providing meals on a daily basis, supported by donations to the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington. The program raised more than $600,000 and provided more than 10,000 meals during that time frame.

They paused operations in the summer due to patios reopening and restaurants able to increase staffing and operations because of outdoor dining.

However, Valero knew that the winter was coming.

“We made a strategic decision… to essentially hold back as much of the funds that had been raised to that point, knowing that when winter came, it was going to be difficult,” she says.

They re-started the program at Hook Hall at the end of December with distribution on Mondays while adding an Arlington location.

Valero says the aim is that if people are in need, they can go to both distributions. They could do a pick-up for four days worth of food on Monday in D.C. and, then, come to Arlington on Thursday for the rest of the week.

Anybody who works in the hospitality industry is eligible. The term “hospitality industry” is defined broadly and includes hotels — many of which are clustered around the new Crystal City location.

“It’s not just restaurants and bars. We rely so heavily on tourism and events here,” Valero says. “We define the hospitality industry to include hotel workers and folks from the events industry as well.”

In order to pick-up the kits, individuals need to either provide a pay stub or show a work schedule with the individual’s name on it. One kit is provided per individual and pre-registration is requested (though not required) to help with better preparation.

It doesn’t matter if the individual is unemployed, dealing with reduced hours, or fully employed, there’s an understanding that the industry is hurting.

“The reality is that workers are still in need. There’s a lot of uncertainty about unemployment benefits. They have run out for a lot of people,” says Valero. “You could be gainfully employed right now and still be food insecure.”

Photo courtesy of Hook Hall Helps

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