Pelicans and Saints owner Gayle Benson creates assistance fund in wake of coronavirus

METAIRIE, La. -- New Orleans Saints and Pelicans owner Gayle Benson made a personal donation of $1 million to create the Gayle Benson Community Assistance Fund in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, the teams announced Monday.

Benson will also establish an Arena Assistance Fund for those impacted by the postponement of NBA games, in coordination with the Louisiana Exposition District and ASM New Orleans. According to the statement, all Pelicans employees who work only on game days will have their wages guaranteed for the remaining postponed games.

A total of $100,000 from Benson's donation will be allocated to the New Orleans Business Alliance's relief fund to aid "gig economy" workers in New Orleans. Also, $1 from all case equivalents of sales at Benson's Dixie Beer for the next 30 days will be donated to the Louisiana Restaurant Association's For Employee Relief Fund.

"We have been meeting and planning a response since the NBA's announcement to suspend games," Benson said in a statement. "Our meaningful discussions have led to what we believe is the most impactful way to best serve the needs of our community as a whole," Benson said. "We want to do our part to assist those that have been impacted in our community. We are grateful to the Greater New Orleans Foundation for their efforts in helping us get these funds to those in our community facing hardship due to the residual impact of COVID-19."

Last week, Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson also pledged to cover the salaries of Smoothie King Center workers for the next 30 days.

The 19-year-old No. 1 overall pick wrote on Instagram: "The people of New Orleans have been incredibly welcoming and supportive since I was Drafted by the Pels last June, and some of the most special people I have met are those who work at Smoothie King Center. These are the folks who make our games possible."

The Pelicans released a statement Friday thanking Williamson for his generosity and saying they were also making plans to assist workers, which required some details to be worked out since the team does not own the arena.