April 1, 2020 500 PM
MARFA – When a group of Marfans pulled together a crowdfunding campaign to support service industry workers with an ambitious $20,000 fundraising mark this weekend, it took fewer than 24 hours for Marfa residents and supporters to smash the goal. The fund, which launched on Saturday to support those who have lost jobs due to coronavirus, now sits at just over $35,000 at press time.
But the service worker relief fund is just the first initiative of Marfa Steps Up, a newly organized group aimed at “helping our town during the COVID-19 crisis” according to their website.
When Marfa resident Shelley Bernstein began organizing a fund for Marfa service workers, volunteers came together (virtually) to support the effort.
“I’ve had a lot of close partners,” says Bernstein. “Rainer Judd, Ian Lewis, Caroline Kanner, Susan Kirr, Neil Chavigny have been just in lockstep.” The group now has a list of over 30 volunteers and has organized outreach to make sure service workers are applying, that their former employers are helping get the word out to them and that donors are opening their checkbooks to support an industry that has suffered under the strains of quarantine.
It was Judd who encouraged Bernstein to create a broader effort, beyond a one-time fundraiser, to keep supporting Marfa as the situation here changes daily. Bernstein talked to city of Marfa officials and coordinated with the city’s Director of Community Services Mandy Roane
As Bernstein worried about the logistics of distributing tens of thousands of dollars and almost threw in the towel, it was Emily Williams who gave her the idea to distribute grocery store gift cards instead – the group could avoid cutting checks and also make sure the money was going straight back into local businesses like The Get Go and Porter’s.
Bernstein isn’t an organizer by trade, but her experience comes from working with digital engagement and technology for art institutions. “Spinning up tech really quickly, using platforms readily available to do it and finding a structure” are some of the talents she says she is able to contribute. She launched a website www.marfastepsup.org and set up a structure for applying to the fund.
At press time, 118 service workers have applied to the fund, including workers from El Cosmico, the Hotel St. George, The Paisano Hotel, The Well, Cochineal, Stellina, the Chinati Foundation, The Lost Horse, Do Your Thing and many more. Layoffs across Marfa began in early March when local establishments began to close voluntarily. After orders from the city and county, even more locals were out of work and facing mounting bills.
El Cosmico front desk manager Dione Acosta was laid off on March 19, after six and a half years working at the hotel and campground. She told the campaign organizers that anything was appreciated to help her family of nine. Speaking to The Big Bend Sentinel, Acosta says she worries about her finances. Bills are coming due, she recently traded in her car for a bigger one to fit her family and her monthly property tax payment is nearing.
“All together we’re a blended family of seven kids plus me and my boyfriend,” she says. Her boyfriend is unable to work due to disability and his underlying health issues have made Acosta extra cautious when it comes to social distancing. Still, Acosta says she’s making the most of it, spending time with the kids and helping with their school now that they are all at home.
The fund is a “bridge,” not a solution, according to the group’s website. “Our hope is that the fund will provide quick relief to those most vulnerable helping get bills at the checkout line reduced and keeping food on the table. Unemployment checks and stimulus packages are on the way, but help with groceries provides short-term relief until these measures arrive.”
For Acosta, “Any little bit helps for me and my family. I thought it was cool that it’s specifically for groceries,” she says. “I know there’s a lot of families that are struggling and you know, whatever can help us. We don’t know how long this is going to last.”
Asked about when she expects a return to normalcy, Acosta says, “I don’t know. I don’t think anyone really knows. I only hope that it just goes away.”
On the GoFundMe, people from outside of town have donated and so have some of the very workers who could be eligible to benefit from the fund. “People in service are giving, people who aren’t in a great situation are contributing,” says Bernstein.
The deadline to donate and to apply to be a beneficiary of the fund is April 10. The group plans to distribute the funds on or around April 17. They are encouraging people to apply online: https://airtable.com/shrXZKwm1OKG11zs2, but there will be hard copies of the public notice handed out Thursday morning at the school, in English and in Spanish. There will be hard copies of the application available (in English and in Spanish) inside envelopes taped to the front door of the library.
Hard-copy applications may be submitted into the library drop box (the big green box out front), and applications should be submitted inside an envelope if possible.
All applications, whether online or via hard copy, must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. on April 10.
Marfa Steps Up is keeping an eye on the needs they see in the community. Their next effort might not take the shape of another fundraiser as locals continue to be out of work. “Rainer [Judd] came up with the Marfa Steps Up name. It was about our community stepping up for each other. Of course it’s broader than that, but so many locals have given that I really think it has resonated.”
“As we understand what these needs are, and as a group what we can do, we can respond,” Bernstein says of their next step. “We’ll keep our eyes open for the community needs and evolve from there as best we can.”
The Marfa Steps Up GoFundMe can be found at: https://www.gofundme.com/f/marfa-steps-up-service-worker-relief-fund