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'Virtual Gum Wall' raises money for Seattle restaurant & hospitality workers

If you live in or have ever visited Seattle, odds are you've stuck a piece of gum on the Gum Wall. You know, the iconic sticky landmark in Post Alley under Pike Place Market? Yeah, that one.

Everything we do at the moment is pretty much done online, whether we like it or not – and now that even includes the Gum Wall, but with a twist. Two Seattle residents have created a Virtual Gum Wall, where instead of putting a piece of gum on it, you pay as little as $1 to remove one. Why? To raise money in support of restaurant and hospitality workers.

When the event restrictions and bans were just starting to go into effect mid-March, Mark Michael said he saw industry workers crying while he was at a restaurant in Seattle. Days later, everything was closed.

"There had to be another way to help [other than takeout or gift cards]," he said.

Michael and Patrick Opie came up with the idea for a Virtual Gum Wall fundraiser Monday, April 6. The website went live just one week later with 10,000 pieces of gum on the wall. The goal was to raise $10,000 - $1 per piece removed - to benefit Big Table, an organization that supports restaurant and hospitality industry workers in crisis.

As of Thursday, April 16, almost $1,000 has been raised.

Big Table started in Spokane in 2009, and now has care teams in Seattle and San Diego. You may remember them from a previous story we wrote about how they care for industry workers. Big Table uses a referral-based model, where people reach out and refer another person who may need support and may not feel comfortable or able to seek help themselves. Take a manager referring a server or host, for example.

Michael said they stumbled upon Big Table when researching organizations to be the beneficiary. Founder Kevin Finch was honored when he found out Big Table would receive the funds from the Virtual Gum Wall.

"I love the idea; I think it's just creative," he said. Michael said Big Table's mission of helping individual workers rather than a whole organization or company is what made them stand out.

"People right now are just desperate for someone to care about them," Finch said. "Just to say, 'How are you doing?'"

Big Table focuses on helping industry workers with crisis care around housing stability, mental and emotional health, medical and dental, addiction recovery, single-parent family support and job readiness, as well as long-term coaching and mentoring. Finch said a lot of people they are helping during the coronavirus pandemic are most struggling with rent or buying groceries, among other things.

"It's amazing how much hope gets created when someone you don't know, and when you haven't asked, reaches out to you and says, 'I think we may be able to help,'" Finch said.

And in this unprecedented time which has taken a massive toll on the restaurant and hospitality industry, that sentiment couldn't be more true.

Visit gumwall.co to donate to the Virtual Gum Wall and Big Table (Note: The website works best on mobile).

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