Having been laid off from her family’s only source of income, Tonia Leal and her husband Christopher are hunkering down and hoping their savings get them through these uncertain times.
Leal has been a waitress at The Crowded House in Madisonville for a little over a year. If you have ever been inside and have seen its hand-drawn menu, that was created by Leal. Monday, like a lot of people in her field, she was laid off.
The Crowded House started as a supplemental income her. She and her husband had worked for a nonprofit in Hopkins County until the end of February. They had been saving and wanted to open their own art-centered business.
“We were working to make a difference, not to get rich, when we decided to leave the nonprofit, we were leaving for various reasons,” she said. “So I ended up picking up more hours at The Crowded House, actually working four days a week.”
Her husband was not employed so he could work on their new venture, she said.
“We’re getting ready to launch a business that’s based around art, and it requires groups of people getting together, so that is completely at a standstill,” she said. “At this point in time, we have no income coming in at all.”
Since her lay off, Leal has tried seeking unemployment through the state. Monday, she called all day and could never get through to talk with someone. Every time she tried online, the site crashed. Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Andy Beshear announced there were certain days for people apply using the first letter of their last name as an indicator on when to file.
Leal said her day to apply was Thursday. She called three separate times, and either the phone kept ringing or, eventually, the call ended itself. She has yet to get through to an individual at the unemployment office.
Leal said The Crowded House has been great during this process.
“As a company, they have been wonderful to their staff,” she said. “They are splitting tips between servers and bartenders from curbside and delivery. They have also offered to feed our families daily.”
Mary Beth Noffsinger, Crowded House’s manager, said there employees are like family.
“We’re a family here. We run with a small staff, and we work with each other every day,” she said. “We’re a family, and we care about everybody here. We just want to make sure during this crisis that everybody’s taken care of.”
Noffsinger said during this downtime, not only are they feeding their employees and their families, but they are also remodeling. She said when it comes time for extra help, they’ve offered to have their staff come in and help for an hourly wage, besides their serving rate.
Leal said the restaurant is being extremely generous.
“They’re concerned for us, and everybody understands, and no one’s mad that the restaurants are closed. We understand why they have to be closed,” she said. “What we don’t understand is why it’s taking so long for everybody else to get on board. We were one of the first ones to stop working. We’re going to have expanded time, where other companies just closed down for a couple of weeks. We’re looking at four, six, eight weeks as opposed to just the two or three that other people may see.”
Besides working at The Crowded House, Leal is a painter who works on commissions. She said three of five commission she has, have canceled because of the unknown future.
“People are in the same situation as us, not knowing what’s going to happen next and feel like they have to hold on to that extra money right now,” she said. “I completely get it, no hard feelings. It’s just everyone’s thinking, ‘What are we going to do?’ And we honestly have no idea at this point.
“My husband is one of those people that’s always positive, everything’s going to work out, everything’s going to be okay, and that’s never been untrue. But it would just feel a lot better if everybody was doing the right thing with the social distancing, so we can all get back to our normal regularly scheduled programs of life.”
While everyone is waiting to get back to their future, Leal said her family would continue to try for unemployment, and if they have to, use the more of the reserves for their new business.
Those seeking information or wishing to file unemployment benefits can call 502-875-0442, or apply at kcc.ky.gov.