Food - The Giving Kitchen offers restaurant workers economic relief

Since inception, the 501(c)(3) nonprofit has awarded more than $360,000 to recipients in need

Atlanta is a big city with a small-town mentality, and people in small towns look out for each other. Over the past few years, the city’s restaurant scene has embraced the word “community” in a passionate, yet well-organized way, thanks to local nonprofit the Giving Kitchen (TGK).

According to the Economic Policy Institute, just “14.4 percent of restaurant workers receive health insurance from their employer, compared with roughly half (48.7 percent) of other workers.” For many restaurant workers, injuries, illnesses, or other unforeseeable misfortunes can be physically, and often times financially, devastating. This is where TGK comes in.

A 501(c)(3) nonprofit, TGK’s mission is “to provide crisis grants to members of Atlanta’s restaurant community facing unanticipated hardships such as an illness or injury, a natural disaster, a housing emergency or other unplanned situations that lead to missed work and missed wages or a sizable unexpected expense.”

Since inception in 2012, as a way to support Atlanta chef Ryan Hidinger (Bacchanalia, Floataway Cafe, and Muss and Turner’s, and the Staplehouse supper club) after he was diagnosed with Stage IV gallbladder cancer, TGK has awarded more than $360,000 to 175 grant recipients. The organization helps cover the costs of medical equipment, travel to treatment centers, rent, utilities, and other living expenses. TGK grants aid workers, but local restaurant owners have also experienced benefits such as stabilizing employees, preventing turnover and eliminating the burden on other social services.

Hidinger passed away in 2014 at the age of 36, but his legacy has lived on to better the lives of his colleagues.

In March 2015, Empire State South server Zach Bechtel fell victim to a motorcycle accident that left his vehicle totaled. It took almost a month for Bechtel to see any insurance money to cover his medical bills and replace his bike. Meanwhile, he was not able to work.

“I needed to be able to physically serve tables to earn an income. After the motorcycle incident, I couldn’t do that,” Bechtel says.

Through a grant, TGK was able to cover Bechetel’s rent and utilities for one month, which allowed Bechtel to focus on resting and healing.

“A lot of people in our industry are unfortunately struggling to make their ends meet, and that can get even harder when an accident happens. It is good to know that there is someone out there helping restaurant employees when they fall on hard times,” Aaron Golden says.

Golden and his girlfriend work at Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q. Last August, a storm caused a tree to fall on the house they were living in and smashed its roof. They had to relocate for a few months while dealing with renter’s insurance. TGK stepped in to cover some of their lost wages, rent, and moving expenses, which helped them get back on their feet.

TGK’s website is full of stories like these that remind us that real people are facing hardships every day. Tony Gil was working as a server at JCT. Kitchen and Bar when he received a grant from TGK that helped him pay for his airline ticket to Virginia so he could attend his grandmother’s funeral. Carlin Guite, a server at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in Kennesaw, was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to undergo months of chemotherapy and radiation; while Angela Riley, server at Leon’s Full Service in Decatur, suffered from brain trauma after being struck by a drunk driver.

If you have attended events such as Atlanta Eats Live!, the Atlanta Cheese Festival, Eats and Beats, Les Dames d’Escoffier’s Afternoon in the Country at Serenbe, Team Hidi, or the Pinky Golf Tournament, you have already participated in a TGK fundraiser. Corporate and foundation gifts, individual donations, culinary events, and restaurant contributions make up the majority of the funding that TGK receives in order to serve its recipients. Additionally, the new social enterprise style restaurant Staplehouse, located on Edgewood Avenue (opening summer 2015), will draw more awareness to the cause, as a subsidiary of TGK. Under the creative direction of chef Ryan Smith (formerly of Empire State South), the crowd-funded restaurant will serve healthy and soulful dishes where 100 percent of the profits will be invested back into TGK.

What started as an act of kindness toward one beloved chef has now become a citywide phenomenon affecting practically every restaurant industry worker in town. If you’d like to learn more or support TGK, visit www.thegivingkitchen.org.

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