COLUMBIA -- Restaurant workers are banding together to create an alliance to increase focus on mental health in the service industry.

The Requiem Alliance shared its message in a Facebook post.

“We work in an industry that is, frankly, tough as hell. So many of us are overworked, underpaid, uninsured, and unsure if we can make rent next month.
This obviously takes a toll on our mental health, and our minds are left like boiling pots. Our work is exhausting, and at times, thankless. Yet we go every time, do what we can, put a smile on, and try our very best to make it happen.
I know as well as you do that smile isn’t always real, that rent isn’t always paid, and that pot boils over.
That said, if there is one thing I am sure of—despite the struggle and the toil—I know we love what we do, and that we love one another. That is why starting this initiative is so important.”

Olivia Pener is a co-founder of the Requiem Alliance. She said they decided to create the organization after the suicide of a fellow restaurant worker and friend.

“There have been many suicides within the service industry and also a lot of overdose deaths,” Pener said. ​​”This [group] is something that has been long overdue and the strategies that we as a collective have employed to address the issue on our own, or with each other, they're just not working. Because our friends keep dying.”

Co-founder Joe Jefferies has worked in the service industry his entire life. He said the job can take a toll on people’s mental health.

“These losses have been so frequent and so hard and often so unexpected, that it's almost like there has been a certain numbness to grief developed, where we've just been grieving again and again and again and again,” Jefferies said.

Pener said the unpredictability of the service industry does not always provide the stability that people need. She said the current goal of the group is to get mental health treatment to as many people as possible.

“We just want to make sure that people have access to the mental health care that they need and that as many barriers to accessing that care are removed as possible,” Pener said.

She said she hopes the group gives service industry workers hope for the future.

“The industry community is composed of some of the most amazing people I've ever met in my entire life,” Pener said. “I've never seen a more supportive and more close knit just a more like, loyal, committed group of people. This is my way of returning that love that I've been shown.”

Jefferies said he is happy to be apart of Columbia’s service industry, even during some of the tougher work days.

“You have to be resilient to it and just get back up. Take the blows as they come, but remember that overall, this is a really beautiful industry to be in because again, it's about people,” he said.

The organization hosted an Overdose Prevention and Narcan Administration meeting. It offered training in risk identification and provided free Narcan to attendees.

Requiem Alliance is currently applying to be established as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. For more information about how to get involved in the Requiem Alliance, visit their Facebook Page.

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