Charitable Choices: Jon Gray of the Bartenders Benevolent Fund (BBF)

We spoke with Jon Gray, Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Bartender’s Benevolent Fund, about the support they offer to those in the hospitality industry affected by the lockdown due to COVID19.


What are the numbers? How has COVID affected those you work with?

Since March of 2020, we have received over 4,000 applications for funding and awarded $570,000+ to hospitality professionals across Canada.

Are those in the industry sometimes unable to collect CERB or CRB? Why?

This is something I’m unable to comment on.

Where is the funding coming from for the BBF?

Our funding comes from many different of sources: individuals, fundraising by bars and restaurants, and spirits brands.

How do you choose to distribute those funds?

Our Emergency Relief Funds are distributed based on the levels and urgency of need. We offer four different funds to suit the variety of needs our audience has: our Emergency Relief Fund offers applicants $250-$500 awards, our Food Insecurity Fund offers grocery gift cards, the Mental Health Support Fund connects applicants with registered therapists and our Pet Food Fund supports people with their pet costs so they can put their money to other uses such as bills and rent. Our Emergency Relief Fund is at the core of what we do, and enlists the help of a panel of hospitality professionals who volunteer to help grade applications. We are a fund that operates by the community, for the community; hospitality professionals from across the country know better than anyone the challenges they are experiencing, and so are the perfect group of people to relate to the issues our applicants express. All applications are redacted by our Funding Officer, to remove all identifying information, before entering this process. Applications are graded both through the responses gathered in the application itself, and through this national disbursement panel.

Who in the industry is hardest hit by this lockdown? (bartenders, servers, owners, dishwashers)

Lower level positions such as bussers and dishwashers usually have the lowest barrier to entry and get paid the least, and so are normally staffed by marginalised communities. Migrants make up a large part of the hospitality industry in certain areas and are particularly vulnerable, as they are not eligible from any government support at all. People who work/ed in these positions are struggling a lot right now. Many of them do not have the support that a big city cocktail bartender has access to, and they have no voice to ask for it. Our aim is to find these people and let them and their networks know that support is out there.

What kind of assistance has been most needed by those hardest hit?

We find that most people require assistance with their rent. Prescription costs and child support are also frequently cited by our applicants when applying for assistance.

What creative solutions have you seen from Bars/Restaurants to keep the doors open?

We’ve seen many, and it’s really inspiring. Even though they are creating brand new revenue streams to survive, many still attach our Fund to their programming. Lots of bars and restaurants have turned their back bar into a virtual bottle shop, developed merchandise, and produced their own cocktail kits, or canned or bottled individual cocktails. Some have remodeled completely to focus on food service rather than drinks. We’ve seen, and been involved in many fundraisers also, such as live performances or giveaways. We’re grateful for how much the community comes together to support each other.

How can our readers get involved?

We have a whole section on our website designed to help people get involved with the fund. If they want to launch a funding drive, host a digital cocktail party or throw an event, they can find guidance and assets at:

People are not always comfortable asking for help, and we are always looking to reach those who need us most, so simply sharing our social posts and spreading the word is an incredible help to us. As we’re based in Toronto, a lot of hospitality professionals here know that we’re here for them but many across the country don’t yet know we exist. Helping us spread the word so that more people know of our existence and our ability to help would be a big boost for the hospitality industry in other communities.



Those in need are encouraged to apply for support, anonymously, at Potential donors are invited to find information on the website as well or reach out to