JMU News

Pale Fire Helps lends helping hand to restaurant workers


SUMMARY: Tim Brady ('06), co-founder of Pale Fire Brewing Co., helps form a food bank to help restaurant industry workers affected by COVID-19.

By Jazmine Otey (’20)

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, restaurants across the nation have been forced to shut down, leaving restaurant industry workers without a source of income.

Tim Brady (’06), co-founder of Pale Fire Brewing Co., is helping area restaurant workers during these trying times. In one week, Pale Fire came together with restaurant supplier Sysco, Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance and a local website developer, Digital Minerva, to devise a plan. Together they formed Pale Fire Helps, a food bank dedicated to aiding restaurant industry workers in need. 

Pale Fire’s 2,000-square-foot tap room is currently filled with boxes of donated food items such as tortilla chips, macaroni and cheese, orange juice, eggs and milk. Resources aren’t limited to Harrisonburg residents.

“They’re my family and everybody just saw paychecks go so quickly,” Brady said. “If you don’t have to buy groceries, then that’s one less worry. I’m not saying that it’s gonna fix the world or anything like that. But if it’s one less concern, then that’s a good thing.”

Pale Fire Helps wouldn’t have been possible without the collaboration of each company involved in its formation. Digital Minerva, which counts Buddy Harlow (’17), Chrissy Garrett (’20) and Amy Winger (’20) among its employees, created a website to provide information about the food bank resource. Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance is helping with outreach and marketing on social media, and Sysco is contributing nonperishable items. So far, Sysco has donated 10 pallets of food.

“I’ve grown up in the restaurant industry,” said Alex Fitzgerald, a business resource consultant at Sysco Virginia. “It’s all I’ve done since I was around 14 or 15 years old. It is one big family, whether or not we work at the same restaurant or we compete against each other. To be able to have this opportunity to give back right now has been hugely meaningful for me and them.” 

Sysco plans to collaborate with other breweries in Virginia to create up to nine more food banks for restaurant industry workers in different locations. Next week, it will launch food banks in Lynchburg, Richmond, Charlottesville and Northern Virginia. 

“To see my company, Sysco, really embrace this idea from where we were a week ago [and] to expand this company throughout our state has been really heartwarming,” Fitzgerald said. “These shutdowns are really unprecedented. No one really knows what’s coming next. So if we can give back to that community at large, the more the better.”

Brady, like Fitzgerald, has been in the restaurant industry for more than 20 years. He understands the challenges many restaurant industry workers are facing. His company lost 90% of its business within the course of just two weeks.

Regardless, he strives to remain positive, and Pale Fire Helps is a small way to take stress off of restaurant industry workers.

“All the people who are coming in getting food just went through exactly the same thing that I did,” Brady said. “These people also just filed for unemployment. Their daily routine, their job, how they make money [and] how they support their kids just disappeared in two weeks.”

“It’ll come back,” he added. “But part of the reason why it will come back is because we can all help each other right now and just recognize that we’re all on the same team.”


Since the food bank launched March 25, community members have responded positively. On the first day, 50 people stopped by, many of whom came to drop off food. Eight volunteers passed out food and enforced social distancing.

In the first two days, there were more than 200 individual donations.

“Right now, so much of the news is kind of soul-crushing,” Brady said. “I think that this has been something that’s a positive story, and it’s doing tangible good. And I think that’s the reason why it’s got such support.”

Pale Fire Helps will operate as long as it has the resources and is able to safely do so, he said.

“It’s easy to feel defeated right now and for good reason,” Brady said. “This is really crummy. But we all have free time. So let’s use it creatively to see what kind of positive and good we can get out of it.”

To contribute, individuals can help spread the word on social media, sign up to volunteer or donate non-perishable food items and/or monetary donations on the Pale Fire Helps GoFundMe page.

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Published: Monday, March 30, 2020

Last Updated: Thursday, April 2, 2020

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