Riley Elliot - MLS Cup

When he climbed back into his car in the midst of his food delivery shift last week, Riley Elliot had no intention of going viral.

Elliot was simply at his wits’ end following a delivery where he ended up losing money after having to pay to park his car and not receiving a tip. In order to get approval for housing, he needed to be able to prove that his income met a required threshold and deliveries like this with no tip meant he wouldn't be able to do that. His stress and frustration at a boiling point, Elliot took out his phone and started filming a video that he shared on his TikTok channel, which at the time had nine followers.

"It doesn't matter that I'm working multiple jobs, it doesn't matter that I rarely sleep and can barely afford to feed myself," Elliot says in the video. "I am about to be homeless for the third time since May, and it's all because people don't tip their delivery drivers."

It’s a familiar feeling to many gig workers, especially as many throughout the country try to make ends meet in an economy devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic. It was a moment that captured visibly raw emotion.

“I think that’s why it’s resonating with people,” Elliot told this week. “Because I’m not the first delivery driver to post a video like this.”

The video began to pick up traction online, and then vaulted in the national consciousness when it was uploaded to Twitter by a San Diego-based playwright named Christian St. Croix, who included the caption “Something needs to be done about this”.

Something needs to be done about this.

— Christian St. Croix (@SaintsCrossing) February 17, 2021

The response from there was what Elliot describes as “overwhelming.” The tweet went viral, racking up millions of views, and donations began pouring in from around the world to his Venmo and CashApp accounts from people who felt solidarity with the struggle and wanted to help. 

Among those to take note were the Seattle Sounders, who saw that Elliot was wearing one of their jerseys in the video. Elliot is from Seattle originally (although he’s currently based in Las Vegas) and is a die-hard Sounders supporter dating back to their days as a USL club. Growing up, he attended games at Memorial Stadium and was there in person to witness the Sounders win the 2019 MLS Cup, which he says is one of his fondest memories.

“We hear you and we're with you, Riley,” the Sounders wrote in a quote-tweet of the video. “On behalf of our Sounders Family, the club has sent a donation via Venmo. Let's continue to be kind and excellent to each other.”

We hear you and we're with you, Riley.

On behalf of our Sounders Family, the club has sent a donation via Venmo. Let's continue to be kind and excellent to each other. 💚💙

— Seattle Sounders FC (@SoundersFC) February 18, 2021

“I felt so grateful,” Elliot said of the gesture. “When I posted the video I didn’t think anyone was going to see it, I thought it was just going to be my nine friends, let alone consider what I was wearing in the video. [The jersey] just happened to be the shirt I put on that day.”

But what Elliot says was even more unexpected was the subsequent support he received from the rest of the MLS community. Fans of other teams also sent him donations and messages, even those of Western Conference rivals, including Seattle’s most-bitter foe in the Portland Timbers.

He received a message from one Timbers fan that read: “Enemy in the stands, nothing but love everywhere else.”

“I think out of all the messages I received, [the Timbers] one in particular has stuck out to me,” Elliot said. “I’ve said constantly to my fiancé and friends: It’s so cool that the MLS community is coming together in the way they are, that even our biggest rival team, all because I was wearing a jersey all the way from 2009 and somebody noticed and said something.”

Elliot says that the outpouring of support he’s received and the platform he’s been given from the exposure of the video has inspired him to keep the broader conversation going about the gig economy, especially during a pandemic where their work has never been more essential. But he’s also trying to do what he can to continue making a tangible difference in the meantime.

He’s donated some of the money he’s received to various other causes, including people who need help paying their bills or money for medication or have been affected by the recent winter storms and power outages in Texas.

Elliot has also helped set up a GoFundMe specifically to aid fellow delivery drivers, and says that a website is in progress where drivers will be able to get a request form with the ultimate goal of sending out the same amount of money to everyone.

“We haven’t determined what that amount is going to be but in order to reach as many people as we can, it’s going to be a set amount that will be distributed,” Elliot said. “We’re trying to figure out how to do all that working with organizations that have been doing this for a while now to figure out the best way to do that, so that we’re doing this the right way.”