#ProjectPaulie was first conjured as a plan to feed furloughed bartender friends, but quickly morphed into a multi-pronged project to reach as many unemployed hospitality-industry workers as possible.
I’m sure someone reading this can explain the science to me, but the important information here is quite simple: In times of crisis, cheese and carbs—and yes, alcohol—are best.
“It’s been 24/7 since we realized bars and restaurants were closing, that they were going to have to close, and almost everyone we know was going to be out of work,” Bandera said.
“I was just like, Let’s start cooking—let’s start doing something.”
That something evolved into #ProjectPaulie: homemade lasagna, Narragansett, Red Bull, and Tequila Tromba cocktail care packages delivered to out-of-work restaurant workers across the state.
What was first conjured as a plan to feed furloughed bartender friends quickly morphed into a multi-pronged project to reach as many unemployed hospitality-industry workers as possible. The reach is long, both geographically and by job description.
“At first we thought we’ll give this to a few bartender friends we know who have lost their jobs; now, it’s everybody,” Bandera said.
“Bar owners who have loans out and can’t make rent … they’re not gonna be open anymore. It’s wild, there’s not a whole lot of distance anymore between the various angles of the industry. Owners are just as screwed as dishwashers and bussers. We’ve been all the way out to Worcester, and we’re delivering to everyone from servers to drag queens.”
To date, Bandera has cranked out more than 500 8”x8” lasagnas from her home in Quincy, averaging about 20 dishes a day since mid-March.
“It’s been crazy to see that we can do all of this with none of us being in the same room,” Trott said.
#ProjectPaulie’s been diligent about maintaining social distancing measures throughout the operation: “I’m handling the cooking, Pete and Chris do drop-offs, Chris does all the routing,” Bandera noted.
“It’s really important for us to be the cleanest we possibly can and have people touch the least amount of hands. We have some people going to Restaurant Depot [for lasagna supplies] and making drop-offs here [at my house]. The packages get picked up on my porch,” she said.
“Making deliveries also added the personal touch to it,” Trott said. “I get to wave at the person from the street and say, Hey, it’s good to see you.”
Which, right now, is a treat itself—especially for a group of people who, let’s be real, make their living by being social, and have been cut off at the knees in terms of their ability to earn.
The financial realities of people working in—and owning—bars and restaurants are currently pretty bleak: loans that were meant to help this sector of our economy have largely benefitted large chains and people outside of the restaurant industry, while unemployment benefits for tip-dependent and/or minimum-wage workers are frequently inaccessible and/or inadequate.
“These are people who have spent their entire lives taking care of us,” Bandera said, acknowledging that without the $600/week unemployment stimulus, people across the city and state would be starving. “Feeding us, washing our dishes, and making us drinks, and right now it’s like I want to give these people one less thing to think about.”
“We want them to not have to worry about dinner.”
#ProjectPaulie plans on operating as long as the shutdown continues. With a waiting list of about 100 out-of-work service industry folks, the lasagna love is currently fully donation-funded.
“We actually have talked a lot about how sustainable this is,” Trott said. “We don’t know how long this will go on. We can’t go out and sell, we can’t really have events outside of livestreams, and we want to keep going.”
With statewide mandatory closures and shelter-in-place recommendations extended through May 18, the number of hospitality industry people affected—financially, emotionally, psychologically—is going to continue to rise: “I now know what a panic attack feels like,” Boyd said.
“Everything changes, for all of us, day to day,” Bandera said. “We just don’t know. … But this is getting people fed and showing them appreciation and not making them work for it, which is really important. It shows up on their doorstep … we have streamers, we have decorations, we just wanna brighten their shitty ass fuckin’ day.”
As a recent recipient of a #ProjectPaulie care package I can confirm, for all of the people across the city and across the various swaths of hospitality represented in the undertaking: Shitty ass fuckin’ day successfully brightened.
“At the end of the day, my job is experiential,” Boyd said. “It’s sort of just a pay it forward.
I don’t want people to ever think of me or a brand I work with as some shark salesman.”
“I always want people to think, Oh, I had a really good time.”
Which, honestly, is all any of us want right now.
Donations to #ProjectPaulie can be sent by Venmo to Nicky-Bandera. To sign up for a lasagna-and-love delivery, e-mail ProjectPaulieNicky@gmail.com.
This article was produced in collaboration with the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism as part of its Pandemic Democracy Project.
Haley is an AAN Award-winning columnist for DigBoston and Mel magazine and has contributed to publications including the Boston Globe and helped found Homicide Watch Boston. She has spearheaded and led several Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism investigations including a landmark multipart series about the racialized history of liquor licensing in Massachusetts, and for three years wrote the column Terms of Service about restaurant industry issues from the perspective of workers.