Donation campaign seeks to help Berkeley restaurants transition outdoors

donation campaign uc berkeley safe open air dining initiative
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The recently founded donation campaign “A Fork in the Road” is seeking money to help restaurants transition to outdoor dining amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Started by Berkeley resident Ben Fong, the campaign aims to fund the Berkeley Safe Open Air Dining initiative, which has been supported by various community members including the Sierra Club, Councilmember Sophie Hahn, Councilmember Rigel Robinson and various UC Berkeley students.

Earlier this month, the City Council agreed to open public spaces and streets for restaurant dining. There is currently no funding for the program, however.

According to Fong, Berkeley restaurants have seen profits fall by as much as 90% because of COVID-19 and are on the edge of bankruptcy.

For Fong, this is a personal issue. His great-grandfather started a restaurant when he first immigrated to the United States from China, and his grandfather owned a small business that supplied vegetables to local eateries for many years.

“I know how thin the margins are; I know that even a week of slow business could mean having to skip doctors appointments or having food on the table or paying rent,” Fong said in an email. “We need to do everything we can to help them.”

UC Berkeley student Sabrina Ma got involved with the program through Outhrive, a pro bono consulting group for small Bay Area businesses. Her parents run a small business in the area, and she said she has also seen, firsthand, how a lot of these places are struggling.

She said “A Fork in the Road” is raising money for many physical components of the initiative, including roadside barriers, dining tables and chairs. She pointed out that many businesses will not have the items necessary for reopening outdoors, so these funds will cover the costs for them.

“Without an outside organization, these small businesses wouldn’t be able to transition fast enough to a model that is in compliance with social distancing standards,” said UC Berkeley student Queenie Shen in an email.

In addition to helping restaurants, Fong also believes that the shared outdoor spaces created by this initiative will help build a more vibrant and inclusive community in Berkeley.

“Shared spaces are more important than ever for us to build spaces for dialogue, convening and healing,” Fong said in the email. “Although Covid has started to push people apart, we need more public areas than ever to ensure that we are engaging with our neighbors to have more productive conversations on everything from race to housing to the environment.”

Shen also noted that, with Berkeley residents locked in their apartments and homes over the past few months, she thinks it can be really easy for people to forget about the outside world and all its problems.

Restaurants are an integral part of Berkeley life and what makes the community special, Fong said.

“We can’t wait to help them and we may lose them forever if we don’t act today,” Fong said in the email.

Contact Zara Khan at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @zara_khanDC.