Rona Toxicated

Group member Paul Bones does a magic trick for the virtual talent show in the Rona Toxicated Denton Facebook group on Sunday. If he wins, he plans to donate his winnings to employees at Two Charlies Bar & Grill.

Editor's note: The Facebook group Rona Toxicated was created to appeal to Denton service industry workers and bar-goers. An earlier version of this article was unclear about the group's target audience.

With the coronavirus pandemic keeping bars shuttered once again, Denton’s nightlife scene has simmered, and many bartenders have found themselves without jobs. But for service industry workers in the Rona Toxicated Denton Facebook group, the party rages on — and for a few, cash will follow.

When stay-at-home orders forced the closure of local bars and restaurants in March, Denton resident Mindy Arendt wanted to stay connected with others in the Denton bar scene. She created the private Facebook group Rona Toxicated Denton as a way for service industry workers and bar-goers to connect, share laughs and stay entertained.

As the pandemic has continued, the group has tried to make the most of the virtual space, regularly participating in challenges such as karaoke and the Humpty Dance. But while the goal has been to foster a fun environment that offered members an escape from a sometimes-grim reality amid COVID-19, Arendt said she also saw it as an opportunity to support local businesses and workers.

Rona Toxicated Denton is hosting a virtual talent show for service industry workers in the group this week, with the first place winner taking home a $1,000 cash prize and the second and third runners-up walking away with $750 and $500. Group members can submit videos showcasing their talents through midnight Wednesday, and a group of 16 judges will select the top three winners and 10 honorable mentions, who will receive $100 each.

Arendt raised $4,050 from group and community members for the prizes in an online fundraiser that closed July 13, hoping to support those who have been hit hardest by the pandemic.

“With the bars being closed again, we have a lot of businesses that aren’t able to have income right now and a lot of people without jobs,” Arendt said. “We’re a close community in Denton, and we’re all kind of like family, so when somebody needs help, you help them — you do what you can.”

That desire to support one another and the Denton community has been a cornerstone of the group since the beginning, Arendt said. Rona Toxicated has previously hosted fundraisers for Crossroads Bar and Harvest House and given away gift cards for local businesses as prizes for past challenges. This time, Arendt said she and other organizers felt it was important to get cash in people’s hands as they struggle with meeting everyday needs.

Group member and bar manager Mollee McFarland, who helped conceptualize and organize the virtual talent show, said it is also an opportunity to defy stereotypes about service workers.

“People seem to think that if you’re in the service industry, you don’t really have a talent or you’re not educated,” McFarland said. “I always think that’s so silly because most of us have multiple degrees and lots of talent, so I’m really excited to see them all turn out.”

For group member Corinne Telfer, the event is an opportunity to give back. Though she is no longer in the service industry, she plans to donate her prize money to Harvest House and Lucky Lou’s if she wins.

“Denton is such a service-industry-rich community and has proven to me and countless others that the community always has each other’s backs,” Telfer said. “All of the bartenders on the Square and Fry Street have continually taken amazing care of me. [This is] a way for me to support them in their time of need since I can’t afford to help monetarily at the moment.”

Arendt said that while the goal is to help those who need a boost, the talent show is just one more way for members of Denton’s social scene to stay connected.

“This is kind of a twofer of being able to help our friends in the service industry who don’t have income coming in right now, and also an entertaining way for people who are quarantined themselves and staying at home, to have some kind of camaraderie and entertainment and get to see their friends, even if it’s just visually,” Arendt said. “I think it’s good for everybody’s mental health to be able to see each other and to remember that we’re not alone. Once we get through this, we can get on to the new normal and our friends are going to be there.”

Though Rona Toxicated Denton is invite-only, Arendt said those interested in joining can be invited by friends currently in the group or read more about the group at bit.ly/38UGoXc.

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