In the West Texas border town of El Paso, the economic downturn triggered by the coronavirus hit one group especially hard. When unemployment spiked in the spring of 2020, nearly a third of jobless claims filed were by restaurant and food service workers. By June of that year, the number of people working in the leisure and hospitality industry overall was down 40% from a year earlier.
One of those newly unemployed workers was Karen Gurrola, a then-24-year-old El Paso bartender and nursing student. Early in the year, she was balancing work and school, even finding time to travel. “After the quarantine, my life changed completely,” she says. “I lost my job, and I lost a semester of school.”
As a funder of hundreds of local charities, the El Paso Community Foundation (EPCF) was poised to help community members like Gurrola. “We knew people would be out of work,” says CEO Eric Pearson. “And we knew the largest sector affected by far was food and hospitality.”
At the same time, across the state in Dallas, another program called Get Shift Done was hiring laid-off restaurant and food service workers to help feed the hungry. Within days of hearing about Get Shift Done, the EPCF was able to get their own chapter up and running in El Paso. Get Shift Done El Paso paid workers $10 an hour ($13 for managers) to package and deliver meals for the El Pasoans Fighting Hunger Food Bank, a local nonprofit that has long been a recipient of EPCF funds.