Illustration by Moises Marquez

Guild & Industry

Pushing the Green Envelope

Strike hero Joelle Garfinkel reopens Green Envelope Grocery Aid.

During the summer of 2023, while the studios engaged in a strategy of refusing to negotiate a fair deal in hope that writers would cave, Guild members remained resolute and went above and beyond to take care of their own.  

A month into the strike, WGAW member and CBS Radford lot coordinator Joelle Garfinkel made the extraordinary decision to help fellow industry workers by launching Green Envelope Grocery Aid, a mutual aid fund for all industry workers. It started out as a simple enough idea—providing $100 in grocery assistance to those in need. The program continued throughout both the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes.

WGA Captain and Green Envelope Grocery Aid founder Joelle Garfinkel at the Hollywood Palladium member meeting on September 7, 2023. Photo by Brittany Woodside.

Now, Garfinkel is bringing the fund back, bigger and better than ever. She chose the name based on the green envelopes Guild members receive when they get residual checks—“and also because I liked the alliteration of ‘green envelope grocery,’” Garfield says, laughing. 

What began as an ad-hoc venture powered by Garfinkel herself, was relaunched, she says, because “there is still very much a need, especially given the slowdown in the industry and the ongoing recovery from the strikes.”

This time around, however, Garfinkel has a team of volunteers in place to help her and is in the early stages of applying for nonprofit status. “We’ve also increased the grant to $250, both because of inflation—$100 is barely enough for a week’s worth of groceries now, but also to commemorate the fact that we raised over $250,000 during the strike,” she says.

The relaunch of the fund is a far cry from how Green Envelope Grocery Aid was born in June 2023. “Like everyone else, I was feeling the uncertainty and was very nervous,” Garfinkel recalls. Then she received “the biggest residual check I had ever received at that point. I was used to getting $3 residual checks and this was enough to cover my bills for the next month. It also felt significant because this was one of the things during the strike we were fighting for—the kind of residuals that would sustain you between jobs.”

Nobody would have faulted Garfinkel for keeping every penny of that check for herself. A single mother, who joined the Guild in 2015, she confesses she’s never had any savings. And yet, when she got that check, her first thought was how could she help offer that sense of relief to others and pay it forward?  

“I thought about the PA that was on the show that I was previously on when we had gone on strike, and she didn’t have the support of a guild or a ton of financial resources,” Garfinkel recalls. So, she reached out and asked her if she Venmo’d the PA $100 dollars for groceries, would that help her? “She was so grateful, and said, ‘Oh my god, yes!’”

We’ve increased the grant to $250, both because of inflation, but also to commemorate the fact that we raised over $250,000 during the strike.

- Joelle Garfinkel

Garfinkel didn’t stop there. Feeling she could afford to part with another $100 she went on Twitter, where people were following all things strike-related and posting updates and explained about her residual check and wanting to help someone with $100 in grocery money. “I wrote, ‘If anyone you know is struggling, please reach out to me, and I’ll raffle off another name.’” Garfinkel said.

In addition to hearing from other support staff needing assistance, Garfinkel was contacted by writer friends offering to donate from their residual checks to sponsor money for groceries. 

The project snowballed from there. Garfinkel reached out to a mentor and good friend asking her if it would be possible to set up Green Envelope Grocery Aid as a fund. “She gave me the confidence and said, ‘Absolutely, go for it!’” 

A call to her accountant helped Garfinkel understand the parameters for the fund and set up a spreadsheet to keep track of the accounting. 

“My dad said, ‘As long as you don’t hit $10,000, you should be fine.’ I said, ‘We’re never going to hit $10,000,’ Garfinkel recalls, laughing, “but we hit it by the following week!” 

Joelle Garfinkel at the Chapman Alumni special picket at Radford Studios on July 25, 2023. Photo by J.W. Hendricks.

To date, nearly 2,700 people have received grants, for a total value of more than $264,000. In the end, the fund spread beyond the support staff and lower-level WGA writers, which was Garfinkel’s original vision. “But it became really clear within even a couple weeks of starting the fund that people from the Motion Picture & Television Fund (MPTF) started referring IATSE members to us.”

Garfinkel kept the fund going through January 2024, even though by November the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes had both ended “because we still had people in the queue to receive funds and people were still giving money.” She also always planned to reinstate the fund in some form, but by January she was burnt out and needed a break. 

“I’d never done anything like this before,” she explains. “I had no community organizing experience. I’m just a Jewish single mother always trying to help people. That’s just my personality.” 

However, it’s clearly more than that. Garfinkel shares that she was raised to care about others, and also that she has a deep sense of empathy. “I also think that as writers we do have that sense of really valuing the human experience, but also, being a single mom to a 6-year-old, I am constantly trying to set a good example for my son. And I think the strike was an opportunity to let him see things that he would not normally be exposed to. I think having someone to set an example for does kind of make you be the best version of yourself.” 

She also cites the Mr. Rogers quote about looking for helpers in times of need as something that has always stayed with her. “It’s so important,” she says, “and the fund really did become its own little community.” 

As someone who has worked in the industry for 16 years, Garfinkel was grateful to join the Guild in 2015, after working for over a decade doing everything from working as a post PA to a writer’s assistant, a showrunner’s assistant, script coordinating and working in writer’s rooms. 

It's also why she felt she could be a strike captain. “I really felt I could now claim myself as a writer,” she says. As a former cheerleader, Garfinkel says being a strike captain was very similar. “I’m a former Bring it On-level cheerleader,” she quips. “Being a captain appealed to my skillset in such a specific and wonderful way, and if I hadn’t been a captain, I don’t think I would’ve felt as enabled to start the fund.”

Apply for a grant or donate to Green Envelope Grocery Aid.

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