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Salem restaurant workers are being surprised with $100 gifts

From left, Salem resident Scott Sheehan gives money to Brodie’s Seaport bartender Chuck Rollins along with Salem resident Mark Roberts on Monday afternoon. (Olivia Falcigno)

SALEM — Restaurant workers may be in for a pleasant surprise to start the new year.

Representatives from the “Salem Restaurant Employees New Year Survival Fund” have been paying visits to dozens of local restaurant employees and presenting them with $100 checks to help make up for lost tip revenue during the pandemic.

“It’s not going to pay their rent, or save their restaurant or their livelihood, and that’s not the intent,” said Scott Sheehan, who began the fundraiser along with his partner, Mark Roberts.  “It’s really just to bring a couple of smiles to people’s faces and let them know that the community stands behind them.”

Sheehan was inspired to start the fund after watching a news report about Brittany Scharr, a woman who began a similar project in Pennsylvania.

After seeing how hard the restaurant industry had been hit in Salem, Sheehan decided to begin his own fundraiser in the city where he has lived for the past six years, following his move from Texas.

He began a GoFundMe page, which he shared on Facebook.

“We thought we’d get a couple of hundred dollars from some friends and go surprise a few of our favorite servers or bartenders,” said Sheehan. “I went to bed and I woke up the next morning to see that the mayor had shared my posts, and that it was up to $2,400.”

Sheehan said he makes the deliveries personally with Roberts.

Some visits have had a uniquely Salem touch with Borah, portrayed by Brian Sims in a full witch costume, accompanying the gifting crew.

Sheehan often films these interactions, which — with employees’ permission — are posted his Facebook under the hashtag #RENYSalem.

“Some people are like, what are these cameras here for? Then we tell them that we’re here to give them $100 and they cheer up,” said Sheehan. “There were about half a dozen people that got teary and were really grateful,” 

Individuals or restaurants are nominated to receive the gifts by members of the community.

Sheehan hopes that the fund will eventually provide gifts to at least 100 Salem restaurant workers.

As of Jan. 17, they had doled out gifts to nearly 60 workers, and the GoFundMe page had raised $7,940 out of the pair’s $10,000 goal.

The restaurant industry has been uniquely hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in Salem, where the economy relies so heavily on tourism.

Dozens of Salem restaurants have either shut down completely or are temporarily hibernating for the winter. 

A December study from the National Restaurant Association reported that nearly 17 percent of restaurants nationwide (110,000 service-industry businesses) were “closed permanently or long-term,” as a result of the economic impacts of the virus. 

Sheehan notes on the GoFundMe page that the effort is neither a relief fund or a nonprofit, and recommends that people also donate to BEHIND YOU!, a nonprofit that provides grants to those employees who have become ill, lost their job or had their hours reduced due to COVID-19.

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