The global pandemic has forced thousands of cafes around the world to limit service or temporarily close their doors (in some cases, permanently). Here in the United States, businesses have had to make difficult decisions on the fly as local, state, and federal government delivers mixed messages and confusing guidance.
Many service workers are getting sick working the front-lines of this pandemic, millions have been furloughed or laid off, and those who continue to work are putting themselves at risk of exposure every single day.
Furloughed Texas coffee workers Oodie Taliaferro and Britain Brooks-Hall have started a new project together on Instagram called Open For Service. The account, presented with vivid visuals and direct quotes, tells individual stories of coffee workers impacted during the pandemic and includes the best way to support them/their team.
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I wanted to create Open for Service to give my fellow coffee professionals a space to share their stories in the midst of a crisis. As a community, it is vital that we support each other. Listening to the experiences of those around us will help us to take care of one another and create a future in this industry that values the work that we do every day, serving our communities. My shop is currently closed and I have been furloughed with the hope of opening as soon as possible. Until then, I’ll keep dreaming of coffee. With love, Britain💗
“The people who work in this industry are the most dedicated, hardworking, talented, and unique individuals I have ever met,” Brooks-Hall told us via email. “Coffee gave me a home when I felt lost and a chosen family when I needed it most. I wanted everyone to be able to tell their story. If they were laid off or furloughed? How did their company inform them and what language did they use? How has this affected them financially, emotionally, mentally?”
“I knew Oodie from working in the same area,” explains Brooks-Hall, “and had a rough idea for the project and reached out to them and wanted us to be partners! They have spent a long time in the community and this was equally important to them as well.”
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over the last few weeks several folks have reached out to me and my wife asking how they can support me in this time, and while i appreciate that, i know that there are people that i love that are in a way less fortunate position than myself. i’ve been asking myself how i can share the stories of those affected? how can i drive traffic to their virtual tip-jars? when @greatbrxtain approached me about launching a digital platform that helped un/deremployed baristas get their stories and experiences out there, i knew i had to help. i’ve benefited time and again from the generosity of this community and now it’s time for me to step back and help other receive the same kind of help that i have throughout my career. take care, y’all. — oodie 💕
The account continues to grow, with new voices amplified from around the United States and more being added each day. This is an ambitious, important project worthy of your follow on Instagram. To learn more we spoke with Oodie Taliaferro digitally, which, well, you know—is pretty much the only way anyone can talk to each these days.
This interview has been lightly edited.
Hey Oodie, thank you for talking to Sprudge. Tell us in your words—why did y’all put this project together?
We have a lot of wonderful coffee-specific resources cropping up throughout this pandemic, but I haven’t seen much that leans into the communities that benefit from our labor (read: our customers).
I’m a barista in Austin. I have worked in coffee in Texas for six years. I know a lot of customers and I know a lot of coffee workers. As a coffee person, you hear stories about how companies treat their staff, but as a consumer, you can only ever know as much as a company will tell you on their social media. I’ve had a bunch of folks from my non-coffee life reach out and ask how they can support me through this. At the time of Open for Service’s inception, I was still employed and collecting a paycheck, so my answer to those folks was to go to their favorite coffee shop or baristas and give them money directly. This got me thinking about ways that we can connect coffee workers with coffee consumers: is there a way to remove the company’s narrative from the barista-consumer dialogue? How can we as baristas receive direct, unintercepted financial support from those that want to help us? Enter Britain [Brooks-Hall]—together we’ve come up with a platform that both shares experience and hopefully provides direct financial resources to working-class baristas.
A lot of companies are showing their true colors right now. They’re telling us how important their workers are by the way they’re choosing to communicate about the reality of the closures due to this pandemic. Most of our customers want to support us and they want to see small businesses thrive. Coffee consumers want to know who to support right now, and unless coffee workers share their stories, those consumers won’t be able to make true and informed decisions. For me, Open for Service is a way to bridge these gaps.
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K A T “My boss has been very kind, respectful, and giving during this time. The staff he had to lay off he messaged directly and made sure that they would all be okay without the job (all of which currently live with their parents/don’t have bills to pay). For those of us furloughed, he was always upfront and thankful to us for being flexible day to day, trying to figure out when he was going to close shop. When we did close up, he said he has been trying to get help from the government so that he is able to pay us, that were furloughed, during this time since we rely on paychecks to pay bills. I feel good about how it was handled, but hope that everything comes out okay on the other side. I feel okay. I’m lucky to have financial support from my family. I am hopeful that when this is all over that the shop I work at will still be able to grow as planned. Emotionally and mentally I have had some low days. It’s a weird time for everyone and I’m just taking it day by day.”
The posts themselves are so important, they are also beautifully made—who designs them?
Oh! Britain and I do! I built us some templates on Canva. Once you build a template (there are some pre-made!) it’s very plug and play.
It was so important to me that these features were SHARABLE! We wanted to make these features so that they’d look nice even on the most ~curated~ accounts (see, lots of our customers). The more folks that see this work and follow through to our account, the more awareness and direct support that can be brought to coffee workers.
How can people get involved?
If you’d like to tell your story you can follow this link. If you’d like to support the baristas featured their preferred method of donation will be in the last slide of each feature.
Thanks for starting this project!
Thanks for reaching out! While it’s awful that a global pandemic is bringing these experiences to light, it’s important we share them still.
Follow @Open4Service on Instagram to learn more.
Zachary Carlsen is a co-founder and editor at Sprudge Media Network. Read more Zachary Carlsen on Sprudge.