From costume designers to cinematographers and script supervisors to art directors, International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) members are a diverse and highly creative bunch. And, as their response to the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated, IATSE members are also socially conscious. They care. A lot.
As the pandemic shut down the motion picture and television industry, IATSE sought out ways to bring assistance to members most in need. Targeting members over the age of 60 who were at greatest health risk and might not have the technology to most successfully negotiate shelter-in- place mandates, the union launched IATSE CARES – the Coronavirus Active Response and Engagement Service. The initiative enlists volunteers to become buddies to members in need, helping with everything from food deliveries to simply checking in. The IATSE CARES website also includes a mask-making portal and a section highlighting members across the country who are making a difference.
600LIVE! recently spoke to IATSE Director of Communications Jonas Loeb about the impact of IATSE CARES.
600LIVE!: How did the initiative get started?
Jonas Loeb: The idea came from a community organization called Invisible Hands. You sign up on their website for somebody to deliver you groceries or prescriptions if you are immuno- compromised. We thought we could scale it up to be an IATSE International program for our US and Canadian members. President [Matthew] Loeb had seen the Invisible Hands site and he requested that we build something similar. We were able to get it done in just a few days.
600LIVE!: Can you tell us about some of the components?
JL: The major feature is the call system where someone signs up for someone to check in on them. We figured mental health would be a huge aspect of this pandemic, and a lot of people have given us really good feedback. Some of the folks who have gotten deliveries have been matched with a buddy. People have been able to connect and even start some lasting friendships.
600LIVE!: How many members are using IATSE CARES?
JL: We have 2,500 volunteers, but we are still in the process of calling our members to get the word out. A lot of our members don’t have Internet. As we’re calling, more and more people are signing up for deliveries as well as for the buddy system, so they’re feeding into each other.
600LIVE!: Is the main concentration of members using IATSE CARES in New York and Los Angeles?
JL: Yes, but it’s also some of the other densely-populated metro areas. Los Angeles, New York, Toronto and Vancouver are our four biggest areas.
Local 600 member Gareth Manwaring and his wife were featured in an IATSE Cares post. The Manwaring family converted their coffee shop, Roots Cafe, into a food pantry/soup kitchen in Brooklyn, New York.
600LIVE!: The website also contains stories of individuals from different locals, including Local 600, who are helping out their communities in diverse ways.
JL: Yes. The locals are sending us their member stories. This is something we’ve been trying to do in general — highlight what the members do. A lot of our members aren’t working right now, but they’re still able to contribute to the community.
600LIVE!: Do you see IATSE CARES continuing as the COVID-19 crisis dissipates and people get back to work?
JL: Absolutely. That list of 2,500 volunteers is the most complete list of people who are willing to volunteer that the IATSE has ever created. We have this framework for providing mutual aid and helping out. It will definitely change in terms of what kind of aid that it is, but I think the buddy system is something that should stay – especially if you just want to reach out and meet new people in the union. I know the Disaster Response Committee has been instrumental in the this and there are all kinds of other situations that they can help members on.
600LIVE!: How do people sign up to volunteer?
JL: Go to IATSECares.org/volunteer and fill out the form. We put you into the system and match you up to someone close. If we didn’t assign you a buddy yet because you weren’t close to another member, you might just be making calls. Those are urgent too. We’re still looking for volunteers to make those member check-in calls.