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For more news about the COVID-19 coronavirus, access the News Tribune Health section.

Fechtel Beverage and Sales and the United Way of Central Missouri have started a fund intended to support food service workers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fechtel Beverage initiated the fund — for which the United Way will be the fiscal agent — with a $20,000 donation.

The fund is intended as a simple vehicle for the community to offer critical financial aid to members of the on-premise food service industries in Central Missouri.

Some of the first places asked to shut down to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 were Missouri's bars and restaurants, where people gathered, said Bernie Fechtel, president of Fechtel Beverage.

"It was right around St. Patrick's Day," Fechtel said. "Typically that's a fun day for people to get together. People were already wary because the order hadn't been given, but we knew the shoe was going to drop."

It wasn't long before food service employers were letting staff go, he continued. And many of their employees are reliant on tips for a large percentage of their wages.

However, Missouri distributors, such as Fechtel Beverage can't simply set money aside for food service employees who sell their products because of the rules surrounding alcohol. The rule has to do with the appearance the money would be a gift for the people who distribute the company's products.

However, last week, Dorothy Taylor, state supervisor of Alcohol and Tobacco Control, approved the creation of the fund done through the United Way.

United Way of Central Missouri President Ann Bax said the Fechtel family reached out to the nonprofit early on.

The Fechtel family has long been involved with the work the United Way does in local communities, she said.

"They saw the need very quickly," Bax said. "These are the folks they work with every day."

And the Fechtels knew the United Way already acted as a fiscal agent for funds for other area employers — Jefferson City Medical Group and Capital Region Medical Center, for example.

"(Fechtel family members) are some of the most generous people I've had the pleasure to know. They always have a quick wit and are able to help you look on the bright side of things," Bax said.

The hope is that other food service companies will participate in the fund.

The fund is open to people working within the restaurant/bar service industry within the service footprint of the United Way of Central Missouri: Boone, Camden, Cole, Maries, Miller, Moniteau, Osage, Phelps and southern Callaway counties. People in these counties who work in the food or bar service industries and who have experienced a financial hardship because of the pandemic — such as their places of employment closing (permanently or temporarily), reduced income because of reduction in working hours, or loss of income because they or someone else within their family requires care during quarantine — are encouraged to apply for support from the fund.

Applications should be submitted for requested funding assistance with a bill or invoice. Other criteria include:

An approved gift cannot exceed $300.

A maximum of two gifts per household are allowed in 2020.

Funds will be paid directly to creditor.

A copy of the bill or invoice must be submitted with the application.

A copy of a pay stub from qualifying employer must be submitted with application and dated Feb. 15, 2020, or later.

Recipients of funds cannot be an owner or registered agent of an establishment holding a Missouri State Liquor license.

Applications will be processed on a first-come, first-serve basis based on funding availability. Once all funds have been used, the program will end and no applications will be approved or accepted.

"Our family commitment is that if Ann (Bax) gets requests, we're not going to let her run out of money," Fechtel said. "At the end, any money that's left is going into the United Way."

For more information and to apply for a gift, visit unitedwaycemo.org/covid-19 or send an email to [email protected]

Those interested in making a donation to support the Central Missouri food Service Industry Relief Fund may do so at unitedwaycemo.org/covid-19 or by sending a check to the United Way office, 205 Alameda Drive, Jefferson City, MO, 65109. Checks should be made payable to the United Way of Central Missouri and should note "Food Service Relief Fund" in the memo field.

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