Q1: Bryan, can you explain what the Giving Kitchen is and how it came to be?
BS: Yes! The Giving Kitchen provides emergency assistance to restaurant workers thorough financial assistance programs and also by acting as a hub of community resources that restaurant workers may need. We like to say that our promise to restaurant workers is stability. You look at the restaurant industry, and it makes up for the largest private sector job source in Georgia.
It’s jobs you can’t automate. It’s jobs you can’t export….the downside is that restaurant work comes with so much instability. The first day you sign up for the job, you’re really working hours counter to the rest of the world. It makes it hard to get access to services just during to normal times, like setting up a bank account. Our goal really is to protect this industry that is one of the most important job sectors in our country–and protect the people who work there.
We were started in Atlanta about five years ago. There was a young couple, the Hidinger family, and Chef [Ryan] Hidinger got diagnosed with stage-four gallbladder cancer. His friends and family raised a lot of money for him, so really it started as a fight for one person’s life and has grown to be a fight for many people’s lives. And when Ryan and his family saw the funds, [Ryan] felt like they could be used for something bigger, something beyond himself. And he decided to start a non-profit for other people like him.
Q2: What makes someone eligible to seek help from the Giving Kitchen?
BS: For the financial aid program, you have to be a restaurant worker, and you have to be able to demonstrate financial need. And the qualifying crises are: an injury, an illness, a death in the family or a housing crisis because of a flood or fire. And we have an online application process: HERE.
So let’s say someone broke their ankle, and they’re out of work for four weeks are three months; the restaurant worker can fill out an application with the Giving Kitchen that lets us know; they upload a copy of pay-stub, so we know where they work; they upload a copy of their medical records, so we know this person is really having this crisis; and they also send us a copy of their lease and their utility bill. And actually the check will write will go to the restaurant worker’s rent or utility bills. So we usually don’t write a check directly to someone.
Q3: Is there a particular story of someone you’ve served that has impacted you and the way you see your work with the Giving Kitchen?
BS: It’s unreal the stories we read day in and day out, so it’s hard to pick just one! My mom and dad opened a restaurant, Schroeder’s, when I was just three days old. So whenever we get a restaurant worker who not only is having a baby, but if the baby is born premature or born with an illness…children who were born sick; I really [resonate with those stories]. I know how hard it was for my parents, and it really puts it into perspective in terms of where I came from and what we’re able to do for people.
A few months ago, I was sitting around, having a beer with some friends who I worked at Schroeder’s with throughout the years, and we were talking about the Giving Kitchen. And one of the things that really hit home for me was that we came up with a list of at least 10 people who worked with us at Schroeder’s who would’ve qualified and really benefited from help if [the Giving Kitchen] had existed at that time. And those people are no longer with us. So there’s no doubt in my mind that if the Giving Kitchen was around, it would have made a huge impact on those people’s lives.
Q4: Can you explain your involvement in V3’s Taste & Toast 2018?
BS: Yes! We’re really excited about it and that all the proceeds from the silent auction will be going to the Giving Kitchen! I know that [V3] has worked with people all over the state, and so they’ll be some really cool items. I think that you [should know] that the money you’ll be giving is for people gainfully employed, and they’re dealing with the worst crisis of their lives. And really our average grant size is $1,800. So that’s not a ton of money, but it’s the difference between someone being evicted, someone having their gas or power shut off or not. And it’s just that little bit of money that people need to get through a crisis. And definitely the funds we raise will be turned right around and come back to Rome.
Q5: How can people get involved or donate to the Giving Kitchen?
BS: We need people to tell our story. That’s one call to action for anyone who cares about food, who cares about restaurants, who cares about people in their community: know about the Giving Kitchen, tell the story of the Giving Kitchen. When you go out to eat, or if you have a member of your family who is in the restaurant industry, make sure they know the story. It’s always surprised us with the amount of funds we have to give away, sometimes how hard it is to give it away. We really count on men and women from the community to tell our story…We know the need is out there.
And as the word gets out, we’ll need more funds, so you can give on our website. We actually have a promotion going on right now, and it’s called “Give Atlanta.” We have a donor from Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, and she’s going to match all funds raised with this program, which runs through November 19th, up to $25,000!