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Omnivore - The Giving Kitchen gives back

Q&A with Clayton Anderson, an East Atlanta bartender who went from a motorcycle crash to a full embrace.

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  • Brandon Belcher
  • At the Benefit for Clayton's Bills and Boo-Boos

I want to hug all of them, at least once a day, every day for the rest of my life. - Clayton Anderson, on the people of the Giving Kitchen

The Giving Kitchen is good at giving and inspiring all kinds of hugs - hugs of thanks, relief, happiness, love, and support. And their hugs continue to multiply. The Atlanta nonprofit was formed in May 2013 to establish a fund that benefitted restaurant workers in need of financial assistance - for living expenses, travel, rent and other costs - in the face of unanticipated hardships. It began with chef Ryan Hidinger's fight against cancer, but the group's goals quickly broadened to try and assist as many restaurant folks as possible.

On June 12, the Giving Kitchen announced its latest list of beneficiaries - restaurant workers who have applied for and/or received grants to help them in times of need. (Full Disclosure: CL contributor Brad Kaplan volunteers with the Giving Kitchen.) The list includes a server who had a housing emergency when the house he was living in was condemned, a breast cancer patient grappling with treatment costs, a father who suffered a brain aneurysm, and a young bartender who was injured in a motorcycle accident, Clayton Anderson.

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Anderson was hesitant to apply for a grant at first, which is understandable. It is not always easy to ask for help. In fact, the Giving Kitchen's executive director, Stephanie Galer, says that getting more grant requests is currently one of the nonprofit's key objectives. Supporters are encouraged to spread the word, or even to apply on behalf of a restaurant worker in need if they know one (a form and qualifications can be found at thegivingkitchen.org/help). For Anderson, it was the encouragement of friends and family that led him to the Giving Kitchen. And luckily for him, the Giving Kitchen also matches funds raised by others - a separate benefit night for Anderson was already in the works at the Earl, so Anderson got a double dose of support.

After the wreck, Anderson was unable to carry out his duties as a bartender at both the Graveyard Tavern and 529 in East Atlanta Village. But his story did not end there. We caught up Anderson shortly after the benefit at the Earl, where there was music, and laughter, and plenty of hugs. Here's just a bit of Anderson's story, at least the part that began when his motorcycle skidded to a halt.

Tell us about the accident.

I was driving straight on 2nd Ave., within eyesight of my own street, and a kid traveling in the opposite direction suddenly turned left into his apartment complex directly in front of me. I had about two seconds to slam on the brakes, get the bike sideways and try to lay it down. And I probably would've missed the car, but as soon as I was preparing to hit the ground, the driver saw me and stopped. So I hit the front right corner of the guy's car, which sent me flying into his windshield almost head first and then flying through the air before landing in the middle of the street. It was the wildest ride of my life.

Then what happened?

When the paramedics arrived, they told me I was bleeding pretty bad, and I kind of panicked because I hadn't seen much blood. He told me that I had a pretty serious laceration on my leg, and that he needed to cut my pants to check me out. They loaded me up and sent me to Grady, where the doctors discovered another huge hole in my knee. I had to have surgery where they removed the damaged portion of my calf muscle, scraped the good tissue and bone clean of road debris, and stitched me back up.

And your prognosis?

I spoke with the doctors the next day and asked them what they assumed my recovery time was looking like. They told me I was looking at about 6-8 weeks healing time, plus loads of physical therapy - that part was up to me. They asked what kind of work I did, and I told them I was a bartender at 529 and Graveyard Tavern in East Atlanta, and that I worked long hours on my feet. They said that it would probably be at least 8 weeks before I was back at work, minimum.

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  • Angela Riley
  • At the Benefit for Clayton's Bills and Boo-Boos



How did the benefit at the Earl last week happen? What did you think when you heard they wanted to help you out?

The Earl is the sister restaurant/bar to 529. Plus my girlfriend, Lindy, works there. She and my good buddy 529 manager Kyle Withrow planned, organized, and executed this whole benefit thing. But what's more than that, honestly... it's not so much having a "tie to the Earl", it's having a tie to the neighborhood. And it's not just me, it's everyone that lives and works in East Atlanta and the city's service industry as a whole.

It's like I said at the benefit, I know East Atlanta catches a bad rap for its reputation of violence, people getting robbed and shot, having their cars and homes broken into, and even things as stupid and trivial as being a place for hipsters to hang out in their skinny jeans while riding their fixed gear bikes and blowing their trust funds on copious amounts of PBR tall boys. But here's the thing - the vast majority of us that live and work in the neighborhood are hard working, good, honest people that are trying to make a living doing the things that we love and have a good time doing.

We're a tight knit community ... When one of us hurts, we all hurt. We're more than a neighborhood around here, we're a family. I think the benefit Tuesday night proved that, and I am forever grateful and extremely humbled by the whole experience. Yes, I am lucky to be alive and have the ability to walk (though it's extremely painful to do so), but all of these people are what make me so lucky.

Do you have a favorite moment from the benefit?

The experience was seriously mind blowing. I was so speechless, which is an extreme rarity for me. You could take away the money that was raised to help with my bills and expenses and I would still be completely content with the outcome ... As far as favorite "moment," there were a lot of them: getting to see all of my friends have a good time, seeing people win some awesome prizes from a lot of amazing donors, getting asked to perform one of my favorite Nirvana songs with Big Jesus (one of my favorite bands) and being able to help Lindy sell raffle tickets while getting to personally tell everyone "thank you" for their help. I also enjoyed being able to get on stage and "pay it forward" by donating a portion of the money raised that night to one of my favorite dudes and fellow bartender, Jimmy Wang, who suffered a broken leg in a motorcycle accident exactly one week after me and is currently out of work recuperating.

And the Giving Kitchen - had you heard about them before? Did you ever think you might benefit from what they do?

It's funny...I had never heard of the Giving Kitchen until one day I was still in the hospital, and I had three different friends tell me about them within a few hours of each other on the same day.

I honestly felt bad, or maybe a little too proud, to ask for their help at first. I felt like there are people out there that need the help and deserve it way more than I do. But after the bills started rolling in and the reality of the whole situation started to set in, along with a long conversation with my mom, I decided to give in and ask for help. I thought that I might qualify for one of their grants, but never both (a direct grant to me and a matching grant for the money raised at the Earl). But within hours of submitting my application, I heard back from Stephanie Galer at the Giving Kitchen ... They were all so kind and sounded enthusiastic about genuinely wanting to help not just me but everyone in need. I want to hug all of them, at least once a day, every day for the rest of my life.

So how has this experience shaped your thoughts on the Atlanta community?

I can't stress enough just how humbling this whole experience has been. I never doubt my friends when they say "I love you man." I never question the level of their caring, but this, this was all so overwhelming. When I say we're a family and we take care of each other, it's no joke. And that obviously reaches well past this neighborhood and is a citywide thing. Sure, our restaurants and bars may compete for repeat customers, "best burgers" or "best cocktails," but it's not really a competition. Well, maybe a little bit... but deep down inside, we all want to see each other succeed by killing it every night, and pull each other up by the boot straps, and lend a helping hand to one another when we really need it. I've been all over this country and considered moving a few times, but after this, it solidifies that Atlanta is and always will be home. I owe this city and its people a lot of gratitude.