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Reporting from the St. George area focused on local government, public lands and the environment, indigenous issues and faith and spirituality.

Southern Utah Restaurant Becomes Rallying Point For Displaced Restaurant Workers

A roadside sign inscribed with an arrow and the words "relief center here" stands out against the red cliffs and desert landscape of Ivins, Utah.
Courtesy of Greg Federman
A sign points to the Xetava Gardens Cafe in Ivins, which has raised more than $22,000 for food service workers who have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Greg and Rachel Federman have spent the last 14 years growing Xetava Gardens Cafe into a community staple in the small Southwest Utah city of Ivins.
But within hours of the state’s ban on dine-in services going into effect, they knew their restaurant, which is tucked away from major thoroughfares and commercial areas, wasn’t set up to survive.

So they decided to turn the cafe into a relief center and launch a GoFundMe page for Southern Utah food service workers who were suddenly out of a job.

The first $10,000 came in 24 hours. And donations kept coming in so fast that they couldn’t keep up with posting video updates online. 

“It was so overwhelming that I couldn’t start talking without crying,” said co-owner Greg Federman. “So I had to stop doing the videos and now I just type everything out.”

To date, the fundraising initiative has raised more than $22,000, which mainly goes towards purchasing food and supplies — in bulk, usually at-cost from food purveyors — to be donated to out-of-work food service professionals. 

The volume quickly grew so much that the Federmans teamed up with nearby Switchpoint Community Resource Center, a St. George organization that provides support to people experiencing homelessness, to handle distribution. 

Greg Federman added that the shift also prevented the restaurant, which only served as a physical distribution center for three days in mid-March, from creating an environment that could put workers and volunteers at risk. The fundraising, however, is ongoing.

The effort stands out as a gesture of community support at a time when Washington County has seen nearly 1,000 leisure and hospitality workers file unemployment claims in the first three months of 2020, according to data from the Department of Workforce Services. It’s one of many grassroots efforts that have recently sprung up around the state in recent weeks.

One prominent example is “Tip Your Server,” a fund established by the Downtown Alliance in Salt Lake City, which received a prominent $100,000 donation from Modern Family actor and Utah restaurateur Ty Burrell in late March.

But despite these instances of giving, most nonprofit organizations across the state are facing significant challenges as a result of the pandemic, said Kate Rubalcava, CEO of the Utah Nonprofits Association. 

Across the board, we’re learning that this pandemic is literally going to shake our existence,” she said.

Her organization surveyed hundreds of Utah nonprofits in recent weeks and found that roughly two thirds of them have taken hits to their budgets and nearly 90% have had to cancel programs. 

That includes Switchpoint Community Resource Center in Washington County.

The organization has had to cancel its main fundraising event for the year and has seen a 65% decrease in the number of volunteers available to help.

Despite the setbacks, the organization’s development director Linda Stay praised the outpouring of support for the Xetava Gardens Cafe fundraiser.

“The community responded incredibly well,” she said.

Over the last two weeks, Switchpoint’s food pantry has now provided services to roughly 150 former restaurant workers. That volume represents a significant surge in demand on the pantry, which normally provides assistance to between 400 and 600 households each week, Stay said.

Federman added that the resource center will soon pivot to mailing out gift cards, after receiving feedback that many restaurant workers would prefer not to leave their homes amid coronavirus concerns. 

The shift will help the center maintain social distancing practices and tailor its aid on a case-by-case basis.

David Fuchs is a Report for America corps member who reports from KUER's Southwest Bureau in St. George. Follow David on Twitter @davidmfuchs.

Correction TK a.m. MDT 4/10/2020: A previous version of this story misattributed information from Greg Federman about a shift to gift cards to Linda Stay. It has been updated to correct this.


David is a reporter and producer working on Sent Away, an investigative podcast series from KUER, The Salt Lake Tribune and APM Reports.
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