Photo: Rick Menapace/Shutterstock

The networks, which have popped up across the country, are being used by bartenders and servers to ask for anything from groceries to baby formula to help with bills

As the pandemic stretches on, leaving restaurants and bars bleeding 372,000 jobs in December alone, local “adopt a server/bartender” Facebook groups are popping up to provide in-need restaurant workers with the virtual space to ask for and receive help.

The groups range in geographic location, from Michigan to Florida, from New Orleans to Louisville, CNN reports. Membership also varies; some groups have fewer than 100 members, while others boast more than 1,000. But the through-line remains the same: Restaurant and bar workers ask for what they need — often food, household essentials, or cash to help with bills — and their communities respond, sending gas money, dropping off groceries, or buying items off of retailer wish lists.

The stories shared in these groups are a reminder of the United States’ glaring lack of a social safety net. There are posts from servers who haven’t been able to get unemployment insurance or stimulus checks yet, single mothers running out of formula for their children, and people who share photos of empty fridges and mounting bills. Scrolling through the hundreds of requests for help, it’s impossible not to feel angry, once again, at everything that led to such dire circumstances for millions in this country, beginning with a foundation of disparity that further buckled under the weight of abject government failure when the COVID-19 crisis hit last spring.

There are other kinds of posts and comments, too — thank you’s and hearts, photos of kids who received Christmas gifts thanks to strangers’ generosity, and offers to “pay it forward” from restaurant workers who themselves were just on the receiving end a few weeks ago.

“The group is growing every day and people are helping each other every day. Servers are even helping each other with the little they have,” Erin Matuch, a former server and the creator of one such group in Pennsylvania, told CNN.

It’s tempting to dismiss these more heartwarming glimmers as the brand of inspirational that color “feel-good” stories that actually illustrate societal failure: the coworkers who donated their paid time off to help a colleague with cancer, the boss who gave a car to an employee who walked miles to work every day, the 8-year-old who raised money for a parent’s surgery by selling candy door-to-door.

But the interactions in these groups also bring to mind mutual aid, an idea that has steadily worked its way into the mainstream consciousness over the past year, as communities left without government support take it upon themselves to help each other. Mutual aid, per The Cut, is “a form of solidarity-based support, in which communities unite against a common struggle, rather than leaving individuals to fend for themselves.” It is not charity, as defined by the one-sided donor-beneficiary relationship. It is two-way care, from and for and back again. Maybe it includes these groups, in which workers both current and former help each other survive when no one else will.

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